The Three Questions

the three questionsThe great Russian writer Leo Tolstoy is perhaps best known for his s “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina”. However, he also wrote many short stories. This story is about a king who wanted to find the answers to what he considered the three most important questions in life. The first thing he wanted to know was when was the right time to begin every action. The second was who were the best people to have around him. The third was what was the most important thing to spend his time doing. If you want to know the answers, you will have to read our story.

Pre-Intermediate Vocabulary Help / Exercises

The words and expressions in our Simplified English story which are not in our Pre-Intermediate Level 1200 word list are: , , , , , , , , , , , , , and .

General Comments on the Story

what men live byTolstoy was a Russian and spent most of his early life living in . “The Three Questions” is a story from his book What Men Live By and Other Tales. This was written later in Tolstoy’s life during a period in which he began to question traditional Russian values and Christian s. It can be downloaded in various forms from Project Gutenberg here, and an is available from Librivox here. The stories in the book, are s designed to give advice about life to poorly educated Russian s. Tolstoy’s three questions are not only meant for kings, but for anyone who wants to live a good life.

Sometimes when you read a book that was originally written in another language you wonder if some of the ‘s ideas might have been lost or d in the translation. In the generally accepted English version of this story the third question is referred to in three ways:

  • In the first and second paragraphs the and king refer to it as to always know the most important thing to do.
  • When talking about the advice the king received, the narrator describes it as to know the most important The answers given (science, skill in warfare and religious worship) suggest fields of study or activity.
  • Later, when talking to the hermit, the king asks: And, what s are the most important, and need my first attention?

At the end of the story the hermit answers: The most important affair is to do him (the person you are with) good, because for that purpose alone was man sent into this life! We have taken the question to mean what is the most important thing for a man to spend his time doing.

At around the same time that Tolstoy wrote What Men Live By and Other Tales, he wrote another famous book, The Kingdom of God Is Within You. This is considered a of writing. It directly influenced the thinking of the great Indian leader and Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi and through him American leader Martin Luther King, Jr. Gandhi wrote that the book “ed” him and “left an .” It is available from Project Gutenberg here and from Librivox here.


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(n: epic pl epics) 1. A long poem that tells a story of great deeds. 2. A long book, movie, etc. that tells a story about great deeds [especially historic ones]. 11000

novel(n: novel pl novels) A long written story, usually about imaginary characters and events. (นวนิยาย)
(n: novelist pl novelists) The writer of a novel. (นักแต่งนวนิยาย) 4000

(n: council pl councils) 1. A group of people who provide advice or guidance on something. 2. In the U.K. and some other countries, a group of people elected to control the workings of a local government area. 1000

(adj: faithful) Having or showing true and constant support or loyalty. 2000

forgive(v: forgive, forgives, forgave, forgiven, forgiving) To stop being angry with someone who has done something wrong or caused something bad to happen. (ยกโทษให้) 2000

handkerchief(n: handkerchief pl handkerchiefs or handkerchieves) A small usually square piece of cloth used for wiping your face, nose, or eyes. (ผ้าเช็ดหน้า) 4000

(n: hermit pl hermits) A person who lives in a simple way apart from others, especially for religious reasons. (ฤๅษี)

hut(n: hut pl huts) A small and simple house or building. (กระท่อม) 3000

priest(n: priest pl priests) A man who leads people in the worship of a god or group of gods; a man who leads or performs religious ceremonies. (นักบวช) 4000

reward(n: reward pl rewards) A benefit that someone gets or is offered for doing good work, good behavior etc. (สิ่งตอบแทน) 3000

servant(n: servant pl servants) Someone who is hired to do household or personal duties [such as cleaning and cooking]. (คนรับใช้) 1000

slave(n: slave pl slaves) Someone who is legally owned by another person and is forced to work for that person without pay. (ทาส) 3000

spade(n: spade pl spades) A tool with a metal blade attached to a long handle, used for digging. (พลั่ว) 4000

wise(adj: wise, wiser, wisest) Having gained a lot of knowledge from books or experience or both and able to use it well. (ฉลาด)
(n: wisdom; noncount) 1. The knowledge gained from books or experience. 2. The quality or state of being wise. (ปัญญา; สติปัญญา) 2000

worship(v: worship, worships, worshiped, worshiping) 1. To honor or respect someone or something as a god. (สักการะ). 2. To love or honor someone or something very much or too much. As a kid I worshiped my brother. Our society worships money. (เคารพ) 4000

wound(n: wound pl wounds) An injury that is caused when a knife, bullet, etc., cuts or breaks the skin. (บาดแผล) 3000

count(n: count, noncount) An act or process of adding people or things together to find the total number. According to the last count, he was 100 votes behind.
(n: Count pl Counts) A nobleman in some European countries who has a high rank similar to a British earl.

(n: luxury pl luxuries) 1. Something pleasant (and often rare and expensive) but not necessary. We're giving up all the luxuries and will only spend money on what we need. (ความฟุ่มเฟือย) 2. A situation of great comfort and ease among expensive things. They live in luxury. (ความฟุ่มเฟือย) 3000

(n: belief pl beliefs) Something believed or accepted as true without proof. 3000

e-book(n: e-book pl e-books) A book whose contents are in an electronic format so that it can be downloaded and read.

audiobook(n: audiobook pl audiobooks) A book that is read out loud and recorded on a CD or as a computer file so that it can be listened to.

(n: parable pl parables) A short story that teaches a moral or spiritual lesson. (เรื่องสั้นที่สั่งสอนศีลธรรม) 8000
A difference between parables and fables is that fables often have animals, plants and other objects or forces of nature as characters, whereas parables have human characters.

peasant(n: peasant pl peasants) A poor farmer or farm worker who has low social status. This land was farmed by peasants for hundreds of years. (ชาวนา) 6000

author(n: author pl authors) The person who has written something; someone who writes books or stories, especially a person who has written many books or stories. I enjoyed the book, but I can't remember the name of its author. 3000

confuse(v: confuse, confuses, confused, confusing) To make someone uncertain or unable to understand something.
(n: confusion pl confusions) The feeling that you have when you do not understand what is happening, what is expected, etc.
(adj: confusing) Difficult to understand; not clear. 2000

narrator(n: narrator pl narrators) Someone who tells a story; a storyteller. (ผู้เล่าเรื่อง) 7000

(n: occupation pl occupations) The work that a person does; a person's job or profession. (อาชีพ) 3000

(n: affair pl affairs) 1. A matter that concerns or involves a particular person or thing. 2. Work or activities done or to be done for a purpose. Business/financial affairs. 3. A secret sexual relationship between two people; a love affair. 2000

masterpiece(n: masterpiece pl masterpieces) A great book, painting, piece of music, movie, etc; one of the best examples of creative or artistic work of its kind. (งานชิ้นเอก) 7000

(n: non-fiction, noncount) Writing that is about facts or real events; all writing that is not fiction. (งานเขียนที่ได้จากเรื่องจริง) 3000

(n: pacifist pl pacifists) Someone who believes that war and violence are wrong and who refuses to participate in or support them. (ผู้รักความสงบ) 14000

(n: civil rights, noncount) The rights that every person should have regardless of his or her sex, race, or religion.
(adj: civil) Having to do with the ordinary people of a country. 2000
(n: right pl rights) Something that a person is or should be morally or legally allowed to have, get, or do. Everyone has the right to vote. 1000

(v: overwhelm, overwhelms, overwhelmed, overwhelming) To affect (someone) very strongly. (ทำให้มีอารมณ์แรง) 5000

(adj: abiding) Permanent; lasting; existing or continuing for a long time. 5000

(n: impression pl impressions) The effect or influence that something or someone has on a person's thoughts or feelings. (ความประทับใจ)
(v: impress, impresses, impressed, impressing) To make someone admire or be interested in you in some way. (ประทับใจ)
(adj: impressive) Deserving attention, admiration, or respect; making a good impression. (น่าประทับใจ) 2000

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