From Mastering the National Admissions Test for Law by Mark Shepherd, page 181-182, last para

Gruesome as we may fi nd the histories of formal dictatorships both of the left and of the right, however, it is to be doubted that the fear engendered by such regimes ever succeeded in percolating through to a visceral level as the totally unpredictable statein- waiting, one that repudiates even the minimal codes of accountability that are, admittedly, often breached by the formal states. It is these that constitute the quasistates, often meticulously structured by shadowy corporations of power that mimic the formal state in all respects except three: the already noted lack of boundaries, the lack of government secretariats with identifi able ministries and, by extension, the responsibility of governance. The quasi- state, complete with a hierarchy of elites and its own monitoring – i.e. policing and enforcement – agencies, may indeed look to a future world order but, in the process, humanity is blatantly declared expendable, and the actualisation of that new order is limited to a close cabal, proliferating through warrens and cities, and contemptuous of boundaries. [Original source]

34 Which of the following cannot be inferred to be a defi ning characteristic of a quasi-state?
(c) It seeks to mimic a formal state (d) It has less responsibility than formal states

(c) INCORRECT. Quasi- states are described as mimicking formal states whilst ‘lacking the responsibility of governance’. (d) INCORRECT. See (c).

The answer contains lacking, but not the bolded. Did I misread? I rejected that the lack of applies to the responsibility of governance, because it would've been written a third time? Please explain the steps or thought processes, to try to resolve by myself in the future? What's this phenomenon called?

  • 1
    It took me a while before I could understand your problem. If I understand you correctly, your "a third time" refers to the supposedly missing "the lack of" before "the responsibility of governance". I think your problem could be solved by looking up the meaning of "by extension". (I think it's likely that you already knew the meaning of "by extension", but probably forgot to apply it to the excerpt.) Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 10:44

3 Answers 3


You are quite right. As it stands the passage is either incoherent or claims that third respect in which the quasi-state fails to mimic the formal state is a responsibility of governance—which, markedly, it is not said to lack. Soyinka should have written either:

... the already noted lack of boundaries, the lack of government secretariats with identifiable ministries, and, by extension, the lack of responsibility of governance


... the lack of boundaries, already noted, of government secretariats with identifiable ministries, and, by extension, of responsibility of governance.

I suspect that the omission comes about because Soyinka is instinctively averse to that ugly of responsibility of governance. In his plays and poetry Soyinka is a very fine writer, with an acute ear. But his natural mode is speech; when he writes more academically the speed and passion of his thought often outruns his syntax. The slip you ask about is one instance, and you may observe another in the previous sentence in this passage, which obviously should read something like

... it is to be doubted that the fear engendered by such regimes ever succeeded in percolating through to such a visceral level as did that engendered by the totally unpredictable state-in-waiting ...

The lesson to be taken from this is that you cannot trust testing agencies to read very carefully: you have to read the selections they provide as you would any other text: with an eye toward what the authors intend to say, not what they actually say.


As I read the passage, "the responsibility of governance" is one of the (three) things these quasi-states lack, along with "boundaries" and "secretariats with identifiable ministries".

Your question is not clearly posed, and I'm not sure I follow your presentation of the test's opinion of the correct answer. Is the book stating that answer (c) is incorrect or correct? enter image description here

As I mentioned when commenting on your other question about this text, it is hardly an example of crystal-clear prose. To attempt to glean its gist by nitpicking (wouldn't "lack" have been repeated a third time?) won't get you very far. The word "three" is the real clue to the organization of the author's thought here.

Now that you have corrected your question...

The "defining characteristic", the essence, of these quasi-states is that they lack responsibility. That is what sets them apart from bona-fide states.

  • Thanks. I updated my OP. Can it be improved? The book says that (c) is INCORRECT. Would you please explain how you determined that "the responsibility of governance" is lacking?
    – user8712
    Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 13:27
  • Will you please to respond in your answer, and not as a comment?
    – user8712
    Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 13:27
  • See the addendum to my answer, below the snippet of text from the passage.
    – TimR
    Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 13:31

From a purely grammatical point of view, any time you have things joined with "and" and there is some modifier, there is the potential ambiguity of whether the modifier applies to everything in the list or only the thing nearest to it. In the simplest case, if you wrote, "I have black cats and dogs", does "black" apply to both cats and dogs, or are the cats black and the dogs of unspecified color?

Sometimes which is meant is apparent from the context.

Like here, the phrase "by extension" indicates that "responsibility of governance" is associated with the existence of "secretariats". So you wouldn't have a LACK of secretariats result in the PRESENCE of responsibility. That wouldn't make sense. The only coherent meaning is that the lack of secretariats is indicative of a lack of responsibility. So "lack of" must apply to both.

  • You guys are figuring out the author's meaning the hard way. The phrase "except three" should turn on the light bulb.
    – TimR
    Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 13:43
  • Good point. Though I'd say that even if it had said "with some exceptions, such as ..." the meaning would still be apparent.
    – Jay
    Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 13:49

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