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In the following question:

It is to the novelist's credit that all of the episodes in her novel are presented realistically, without any _____ or playful supernatural tricks.

A) elucidation

B) discrimination

C) artlessness

D) authenticity

E) whimsy

To fill in the blank, I made use of “or,” which means something opposite of supernatural should go into the blank. That's why I chose “C) artlessness,” which also means natural and untrained.

But the answer is “E) whimsy.” Where did I go wrong? What is the author trying to convey?

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    What is required is something the opposite of realistic! The author says that the episodes are without [blank]. – Kate Bunting Aug 1 at 12:46
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    It's an answer that a great many native English speakers would have got wrong. – Ronald Sole Aug 1 at 12:48
  • The blank doesn't really need to be the opposite of supernatural. The conjunction "or" doesn't point to the opposite of the condition defined after the or or before it. – Dhanishtha Ghosh Aug 1 at 12:52
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    I think there are very many native speakers, especially these days, who would have absolutely no idea what 'artlessness' is. – Michael Harvey Aug 1 at 13:20
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    @Lambie Sorry, but the main meanings of artless are lacking in guile and natural, not artificial - see here. – Kate Bunting Aug 1 at 18:08
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Actually, the two noun phrases around “or” should not be opposites. We are told the episodes are “presented realistically” and “without [...] playful supernatural tricks” is one example of that, and the only other option that would make sense as another example of that is “without whimsy”. It would not make sense to say “without artlessness“ here because that would mean that the episodes were without honesty. (The same is why “authenticity” would not work here either, and the rest of the options just make no sense in context.)

“Or” here is just creating a list. You could reword the sentence and keep approximately the same meaning:

[...] are presented realistically, with neither _____ nor playful supernatural tricks.

You could also think of a simpler example:

She went alone, without her mom or her sister.

It should be obvious here how a mom and a sister are not opposite alternatives but rather are examples of people she went without.

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This is a difficult question. I believe that "whimsy" is correct because it is describing "supernatural" along with "playful." If it was "artless" rather than "artlessness," I believe it would be correct.

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    "artless" doesn't work at all, as a noun is required here. But I do think "whimsy" is the correct answer, as it is one part of the opposite to "realism" – James K Aug 1 at 16:21

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