main idea

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joham

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When we take a test, we often meet such questions:

1. What is the main idea of the passage?
2. What is the passage mainly about?
3. What is the writer's purpose for this passage?
4. The author mainly wants to tell us _______.

I often get confused about these. Sometimes #1 =#2, sometimes #1= #3 and other times #3 = #4. And I've never read such a phrase as 'the main idea' in any of my LONGMAN, OXFORD, CAMBRIDGE OR MACMILLAN dictionaries.

Could I ask native English teachers to clarify this long-standing puzzle of mine? A thousand thanks.
 

Anglika

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This is a neat example of the flexibility of English - and how slight changes in meaning come from the contexts.

With reference to "the main idea", see here for usages which should indicate meaning:
[Davies/BYU] BYU-BNC: British National Corpus



1. What is the main idea of the passage? Fundamentally, what is the theme/topic of the passage.
2. What is the passage mainly about? Fundamentally, what is this passage discussing.
3. What is the writer's purpose for this passage? What does the author mean in this passage - what are his/her intentions?
4. The author mainly wants to tell us _______. The author is giving us these facts.
 

Anglika

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If that is your interpretation, that is fine. I feel subtle differences.
 
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