The TOEFL Integrated Essay will ask you to compare information from a passage with information from a lecture. In many cases, the professor who gives the lecture will disagree with some of the information that’s presented in the passage. When this happens, you need to mention it in your essay. In this TOEFL Tuesday video, I explain some useful disagreement verbs that you can use when you’re writing the Integrated Essay. By using these verbs, you can show the graders that you have a strong command of the English language.
To undermine something means to show that something is not true, or that something is being weakened. We usually use this word to refer to weakening an idea or a theory – especially when the weakening takes place slowly over time.
For example, North America was first populated many thousand years ago, and there are different theories about where those people came from. Some scientists believe that these people came from North East Asia, while others think that they came from closer to India. So there is disagreement about where the first inhabitants of North America came from. We could use the word “undermine” like this:
The first accepted theory was that the first inhabitants of North America came from North East Asia. However, the results from DNA testing on old bones have slowly undermined this theory.
“Refute” is a much stronger word than “undermine.” “Refute” means to prove that something is wrong, or to completely disprove it. So if a theory is refuted, it becomes clear that it is not true at all. For example, we could say:
New evidence has refuted the old theory that the first inhabitants of North America arrived by crossing the land bridge between Russia and Alaska.
This sentence tells us that new evidence has shown that the old theory is definitely not true.
Finally, we have the word “to counter.” This word is usually used to describe something that happens in an argument or a debate. One person might say that A is true, and the second person might respond by stating that A is not true, and that B is true instead. If the second person uses logic to support her argument, she is countering the first person’s statement.
The best way to explain this word is by using an example. Let’s say that the text you’re given for the Integrated Essay provides support for the old theory of how North America was populated (people crossed the land bridge between Russia and Alaska). However, in the lecture, the professor disagrees with this by saying that the climate so far north was too cold for people to make the journey across the land bridge. In that case, we could say:
The professor counters the arguments in the passage by pointing out that the climate so far north was too cold for people to make such a long journey.