Recent studies suggest that ride-sharing services could do a much better job providing useful information to drivers. For example, one current app provides heat maps... but only when surge pricing is in effect and demand is strong. But it doesn't help drivers figure out how to optimise their business during the doldrums, when demand is poor.

"poor" most nearly means:
a) outdated
b) mournful
c) modest
d) weak

I was having a hard time choosing between (c) and (d). The answer is (d) and I guess it makes sense since weak is the opposite of strong, but wouldn't (c) also make sense as well?


D, most certainly. Modest is a more positive word for small, and is often associated with 'barely enough', often linking back to issues of individual pride and making do with less. I.E.: "She lives modestly with few luxuries, but they always have food on the table." If the point you're making is that this lack is bad, D is just a much clearer conveyor of that tone without muddying it up with 'modest'.


doldrums is an allusion to sailing conditions of yesteryear in equatorial regions where calms would cause ships to come to a standstill, sometimes for weeks. The drivers are being (faintly) likened to sailors whose ships were making no progress because they lacked even a modest wind. Sailors stuck in a calm would be grateful for a modest wind. A modest wind would allow a sailing ship to make some progress. A business that is a "modest success" is not thriving, but neither is it close to failing. You want the word that implies "not enough to succeed", and the closest word there is weak.

  • 1
    But sailors stuck in a calm would also be grateful for a weak wind. – Iain Sep 26 '18 at 11:27
  • @Iain: A wind can be so weak that it would fail to drive the ship. They would not be grateful in that case. But a modest wind would always win their gratitude. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 1 '18 at 20:59
  • Although I globally agree that the term 'weak' is slightly more severe (and also more negative) in these situations than 'modest', I do think that a wind can be too modest to drive a ship also. It's hard to find an example that really drives home the (subtle and context-dependent) difference between the two phrases. They can also have entirely different meanings depending on the situation (eg: a weak home vs. a modest home) – Iain Oct 2 '18 at 7:11

Answer: d) weak

The previous sentence ends "demand is strong". Therefore "demand is weak" is a good way of saying the opposite.

"modest" is not a clear opposite to "strong". It has a nuance that demand is always small-medium in size, rather than varying between strong and weak. It also does not fit well with "business during the doldrums", given doldrums means stagnation or depression.

  • This is not true at all. The dictionary itself defines "modest" as, relatively moderate, limited, or small. In this context it may even sound better than "weak" -- although since "weak" also works, the question is clearly invalid. – Andrew Sep 25 '18 at 20:59
  • @Andrew whatever the dictionary says is the definition of "modest", the antonyms of "modest" are words like brave, arrogant, assured, bold, courageous, ostentatious, proud, etc - but not "strong". thesaurus.com/browse/modest – alephzero Sep 26 '18 at 1:17

I agree with others that it's a bad question.

The issue is that "modest" basically means "not strong", so it would fit pretty naturally into that sentence. However, the question is not "which word would make most sense in the sentence '... when demand is ____'?"

Here, someone has already chosen the word "poor", and you're asked what they meant. Therefore you want the nearest synonym for "poor" in this context. "Weak" and "poor" are much more similar in meaning than "modest" and "poor", because "modest" is a less negative word.


I'm with FumbleFingers on this one. While the most likely answer to the specific question asked is "weak", this relies more on making an educated guess based on the way the question is phrased ("most nearly means"), rather than on the meaning of the specific answer choices.

"Modest" can mean "small", or "less than expected", and very much fits into this context. A similar example:

After its strong performance in the second quarter of the year, the company showed surprisingly modest gains in the third quarter.

"Weak" would also be fine in this sentence, but may not convey the same subtle meaning. No one likes to be called weak, so if the writer chose to say the gains are "weak", it may imply the company itself is weak. "Modest" is more diplomatic, and instead suggests the gains should have been better.

As a substitute for "poor", I actually prefer the use of "modest" in the test question, as it sounds better than "weak". In my opinion, since more than one answer might work, the question itself is flawed.

  • 1
    Yes, in your sentence but not in the OP's sentence. – Lambie Sep 25 '18 at 21:11

There are other options and I wouldn't use strong but high. I would also not use any of the options you put forward and use lower

I would also not use doldrums as it suggests that there is no demand rather than just not high demand.

For example, one current app provides heat maps... but only when surge pricing is in effect and demand is high. But it doesn't help drivers figure out how to optimise their business when demand is lower.

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