1. Pencil is to sharpen as

A. knife is to cut
B. carpenter is to build
C. wood is to saw
D. well is to fill
E. saw is to ax

The answer to this verbal analogy (from here) does not seem the best to me. I'd have chosen D. My reasoning is: When a pencil gets worn down (blunt), it's "out of lead," it won't write anymore, so it can't serve its purpose anymore, till it gets sharpened. Similarly, when a well runs out of water, it no longer serves its purpose, so it has to be filled.

The correct answer (C) doesn't fulfill that type of qualification. The only analogy with D. that it has, is that a pencil's made of wood, and both a saw and sharpening involve a form of cutting.

Can anyone explain why C. is the solution?


2 Answers 2


As CrossRoads says, I presume the thinking behind the answer is that "sharpen" is something you do to a "pencil", so the correct answer would be words that share that relationship. "Knife/cut" doesn't work because you do not normally cut a knife, rather, you use a knife to cut. The "does the action" versus "receives the action" is backwards. Similarly with B. In E, if you think of "saw" as a noun, then it doesn't work because we have 2 nouns rather than a noun and a verb. If you think of "saw" as a verb, it doesn't work because the order doesn't match -- noun/verb versus verb/noun -- and because you can't saw things with an ax, that's not what an ax does. So either way, E doesn't work.

I see your point about D, one could fill a well. But we don't normally talk about filling a well, we tend to think of natural processes filling a well, and then we use the well to fill a bucket or we pump the water out of the well. So again, it's backwards: we don't fill a well, the well fills our bucket. People don't normally pour water into a well and then later draw it out. If that's what you're doing, it's not a well but a cistern. If it had said "cistern is to fill", I would agree that that would be a viable choice.

  • 1
    @Andrew Fair enough, I was not familiar with that definition. Still, I think insisting that a test such as this must consider every rare and obscure definition of a word is asking a bit much. If I was taking a test and said to myself, "Using the ordinary and common definitions of words, C is a correct answer. If I use this rare and obscure definition of one of the words, D is also a correct answer", surely the logical conclusion is that the expected answer is C. ...
    – Jay
    Aug 23, 2018 at 21:37
  • 1
    ... But in fairness, what seems an obscure definition to me might be very familiar to someone else, so a test writer should certainly try to avoid such cases.
    – Jay
    Aug 23, 2018 at 21:37
  • 1
    A "well" could be any kind of reservoir. An inkwell comes immediately to mind, and it is a well you might need to fill. A well isn't necessarily a hole in the ground. Aug 23, 2018 at 22:50
  • 1
    @Andrew It's been a long time since I took an SAT so I don't remember just what sort of analogies they had. I can think of many types of analogies that I would consider "fair", from something very specific like your pencil/sharpen vs knife/hone example, to something more general, like asking the student to recognize that the pattern is noun/verb. Of course such analogies can get cryptic, and can come down to trying to guess which of many possible relationships the test-writer had in mind. "automobile is to apple as Brazil is to _______".
    – Jay
    Aug 24, 2018 at 17:56
  • 1
    There was a post on one of these stackexchange forums where someone said he took an intelligence test that asked "which of these cities is not like the others". Apparently the intended answer was to pick the one that was not a national capital. But as I and many others pointed out, you could make a case for any of the cities on the list: The only one in the Western Hemisphere, the only one not on a major river, etc.
    – Jay
    Aug 24, 2018 at 18:00

Sharpen is something you do to a pencil.

Saw is something you do to wood.


Cut is not something you do to a knife.

Build is not something you do to a carpenter.

Fill is not something you do to a well.

Ax is not something you do to a saw.

  • 2
    You can most certainly fill a well (from some underwater source) If forced, I might have had to pick that because of the additional implication in order to make it useful. But either way this is a poor example of an analogy question. If they wanted to do it right, the first choice would have been knife is to hone, because then you have a perfect parallel.
    – Andrew
    Aug 23, 2018 at 17:58
  • One would not fill a well - it would itself from an underground source, as you noted. You would fill something else from a well normally.
    – CrossRoads
    Aug 23, 2018 at 18:05
  • I guess we'll agree to disagree. It's a moot point either way -- the point is that you can make an argument for two of the answers, which invalidates the question.
    – Andrew
    Aug 23, 2018 at 18:27
  • Perhaps it is related to the kinds of action being taken in addition to how the action interacts with the subject. You've nailed the "Action Happens to the Subject" relationship, but maybe it's related to the fact that both sharpening and cutting involve reducing the subject whereas "fill" adds to the subject.
    – Nathalinil
    Aug 23, 2018 at 19:52

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .