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Is being alone the same as being lonely?

Alone and lonely are not exactly the same. Lonely is used to express a negative emotion. Alone is used to describe a situation when there is no one else around.

There are times when I’m very happy to be alone. I enjoy the silence. I like being with myself. I like to journal. I like to listen to the sounds of nature. I like green face masks.

There are other times when I feel very lonely even when I’m in a room of crowded people. I feel sad mainly because I can’t connect to anyone around me.

Ok, so what does this have to do with TOEFL? I’m so glad you asked!

In TOEFL, we CANNOT rely on our own opinions or feelings about a vocabulary word. Always look at the context (the words and sentences that surround the vocabulary word) to fully understand how the word is being used.

For example:

The woman shared her apartment with no one and remained alone for many years.

The word alone is closest in meaning to:

a. lonely

b. solitary

A is Incorrect. Lonely has a negative connotation. There is no context clue in the sentence that says the woman was unhappy or experiencing a negative emotion about living by herself.

B is Correct. Solitary just means by one’s self. This is a neutral word that matches the neutrality of the word alone.

Just because you might have a personal feeling that “alone” is negative does not mean that the negative answer choice will be correct.

The word “alone” is a neutral word. It does not have a positive or negative connotation or emotion attached to it.

There are other neutral words such as: common, traditional, immense, popular or recede. When you see these types of neutral words, rely on the context clues from the sentence that are provided, not on your own personal feeling about the word.

Not only is this important to remember for a vocabulary question, but it is also essential for an inference question. The TOEFL may have a TRAP answer choice that suggests a positive or negative emotion when there is no mention of this in the passage.

Keeping this in mind, let’s get some #practice.

Read the following then answer the question.

The book written by the serial killer became popular. It remained the number one best selling book for 35 weeks and was a common topic of discussion. The serial killer ended up spending the rest of his life in solitary confinement without any knowledge about how his book was received by the public.

1. What can be inferred about the book?

a. Many people bought the book.

b. The serial killer was popular.

c. The book was admired by many people.

d. The serial killer was happy that his book was well-liked.

2. The word common is closest in meaning to:

a. boring

b. informal

c. ordinary

d. typical

3. What can be inferred about the serial killer?

a. He felt lonely in solitary confinement.

b. He was angry that he did not know about the public’s reactions to his book.

c. He spent the rest of his days alone in jail.

d. He became depressed while confined in a small space.


1. Correct Answer: A

B is incorrect because it was not the serial killer who was popular. It was his book.

C is incorrect because there is not enough evidence to suggest that the book was admired. People bought the book, but there is nothing that suggests that they admired the book. Popular is a neutral word, which means that it is not positive.

D is incorrect because there is not enough evidence to indicate that the serial killer was happy. Also, his book was popular, but this does not mean it was well-liked. People may have been interested in buying the book, but we don’t know if they liked it or not.

2. Correct Answer: D

A is incorrect because boring has a negative connotation. If many people bought the book and discussed it, it is likely that they did not find this book boring.

B is incorrect because informal does not fit in with the context of the paragraph. In this situation, the formality of the discussion is not mentioned. Instead, it is about the discussion being a common, or frequent, occurrence.

C is incorrect because ordinary has a negative connotation meaning plain or not unique. In the context of the sentence, the discussions are common because they happen frequently.

3. Correct Answer: C

A is incorrect. Even though he is in solitary confinement, we do not know if he feels lonely. This cannot be inferred.

B is incorrect. There is not enough information to infer that he feels angry.

D is incorrect because there is no mention of depression.

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