William had no girlfriends in high school, and his mother once sat him down at the table in her spotless kitchen and asked if he was gay. She said it would be fine with her. She loved him unconditionally, and they would figure out a way to tell his father. But William wasn’t gay. He was just absurdly, painfully in love with Bridey Taylor, who leaned on the piano and sang while he played, and he had no way of telling her. He was too shy to pursue other girls, even when the payoff seemed either likely or worth the agony. But he didn’t tell his mother that. It was too humiliating. He just stammered an unconvincing denial.

Other boys asked Bridey out, and William suffered through it. She viewed them with amusement, but she accepted most invitations. Encouraged, in their junior year William decided to ask her to the winter formal. He was getting ready, vibrating with anticipation, when Bridey told him that a tennis-playing senior named Monty had invited her.

  1. What does encouraged here mean? Also is it passive or adjective?
  2. Who is the word their referring to? William? Other students? Or William and Bridey?

Thank you a thousand times over.

  • Just because it appears in The New Yorker does not make it a great story, or even better than average. Try Breakfast at Tiffany's, a novella that comes to mind that has good writing.
    – user6951
    Commented Sep 26, 2014 at 3:02

2 Answers 2


That's rather an awkward way to start a sentence. If you remove "in their junior year" from the sentence, the noun that "Encouraged" is describing becomes more apparent: "Encouraged, William decided to ask her to the winter formal." "Their" describes William and Bridey, since they're the only two people mentioned in the paragraph to that point aside from William's mother.

  1. Encouraged in this case means that he felt more confident in his chances.
  2. Their in this case means William and Bridey.

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