Reading

Subtitle

Vocabulary in Context

Context clues are words and phrases in a sentence which help you reason out the meaning of an unfamiliar word.  Oftentimes you can figure out the meanings of new or unfamiliar vocabulary by paying attention to the surrounding language.  The table below gives the types of clues, signals and examples of each clue.

Type of Context Clue

Definition

Signals

Examples

Antonym or Contrast Clue

Phrases or words that indicate opposite

but, in contrast, however, instead of, unlike, yet

Unlike his quiet and low key family, Brad is garrulous.

Definition or Example Clue

Phrases or words that define or explain

is defined as, means, the term, [a term in boldface or italics] set off with commas

Sedentary individuals, people who are not very active, often have diminished health.

General Knowledge

The meaning is derived from the experience and background knowledge of the reader; "common sense" and logic.

the information may be something basically familiar to you

Lourdes is always sucking up to the boss, even in front of others. That sycophant  just doesn't care what others think of her behavior.

Restatement or Synonym Clue

Another word or phrase with the same or a similar meaning is used.

in other word, that is, also known as, sometimes called, or

The dromedary, commonly called a camel, stores fat in its hump.

In addition to context clues are word parts: prefixes, roots and suffixes.  Some textbooks refer to this as word analysis. These come into the English language from several other languages, and many of the oldest are Greek or Latin in origin.  There are many books which you can use to study word analysis.  You may also find several other online sites that are excellent resources.

 

Practice Context Clues

Read each sentence below and write down the closest meaning type of context clue (contrast/antonym, restatement/synonym, example or general knowledge) that helps you define the meaning of the key term.

1.  Joan loves to buy exotic foods: vegetables and herbs from China, spices from India, olives from Greece, and cheeses from France.

expensive

seasonings

rare

from  other places

2.  Emotionally disturbed people may be troubled by morbid thoughts. For instance, they may often think about suicide or murder.

disturbing

dealing with death

psychologically ill

scary

3.  At first, the surgery seemed to be successful. But several hours later, the patient’s condition began to deteriorate, and it continued to worsen over the next few days.

stabilize

surprise everyone

change

decay or decline

4.  In Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by three spirits who changed him into a generous man.

cheapskate

single and elderly

unhappy

wealthy

5.  Raul is an indulgent father. For instance, he lets his daughter stay up as late as she likes and he never insists that she does her homework.

lazy  and caring

stupid and kind

strict and mean

lenient and tolerant

6.  Languages evolve over time, as you can see if you open a page of The Canterbury Tales, written about six hundred years ago by the English poet Chaucer. It is barely recognizable as English today.

develop

age

increase complexity

regress

7.  The decision Veronica made to study instead of going out for pizza with her friends was prudent. She got an A on the exam, while her friends all got D’s.

anti-social

careful and wise

selfish

calculating

8.  Whenever something bad happens to Jane, she ways it’s the fault of destiny. But I prefer to take charge of my own life rather than simply blaming fate.

bad luck

evil caused by someone

poor planning

event that happens regardless

9.  My father died when I was a baby, but Mom told me so many stories about him that I feel I knew him well. For example, one anecdote was about how he cried with joy when I was born.

medicine or cure

biographical account

example

joke

10.  Ivan is a wonderful piano player. But Jerri is more versatile; she sings, acts, paints and writes poetry, and also plays the piano.

talented

show off

superior skills

many abilities

11. This third grade was full of precocious children. One child had learned to read at two and another could do algebra at age 6.

backward

active

ahead

pretty

12. I expected truthfulness from a doctor; I was shocked by his mendacity.

duplicity

meanness

candidness

knowledge

13. When my grandfather meets someone with that much knowledge in a field, he finds that their erudition frightens him and he is inclined to withdraw.

rudeness

scholarliness

illiteracy

age

14. When going to an office party you should show your best decorum, for example, dress your best, drink and eat moderately, and be sure to thank the host before you leave.

civility

decorations

party moves

rudeness

15. We thought that the mother would be very distraught at hearing of her husband's accident; however, she took the news quite calmly.

tranquil

angry

disgusted

anxious

16. It is refreshing to see students so excited, so zealous in doing their homework.

zany

dedicated

indifferent

jealous

Practice Context Clues Answers

1.  Joan loves to buy exotic foods: vegetables and herbs from China, spices from India, olives from Greece, and cheeses from France.   EXAMPLE

 

 

 

from  other places

2.  Emotionally disturbed people may be troubled by morbid thoughts. For instance, they may often think about suicide or murder. EXAMPLE

 

dealing with death

3.  At first, the surgery seemed to be successful. But several hours later, the patient’s condition began to deteriorate, and it continued to worsen over the next few days.  RESTATEMENT

decay or decline

4.  In Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by three spirits who changed him into a generous man. CONTRAST

cheapskate

5.  Raul is an indulgent father. For instance, he lets his daughter stay up as late as she likes and he never insists that she does her homework.  EXAMPLE

lenient and tolerant

6.  Languages evolve over time, as you can see if you open a page of The Canterbury Tales, written about six hundred years ago by the English poet Chaucer. It is barely recognizable as English today.  GENERAL KNOWLEDGE

develop

7.  The decision Veronica made to study instead of going out for pizza with her friends was prudent. She got an A on the exam, while her friends all got D’s.  GENERAL KNOWLEDGE

careful and wise

8.  Whenever something bad happens to Jane, she ways it’s the fault of destiny. But I prefer to take charge of my own life rather than simply blaming fate*.  GENERAL KNOWLEDGE/RESTATEMENT*

event that happens regardless

9.  My father died when I was a baby, but Mom told me so many stories about him that I feel I knew him well. For example, one anecdote was about how he cried with joy when I was born*.  RESTATEMENT/EXAMPLE*

biographical account

10.  Ivan is a wonderful piano player. But Jerri is more versatile; she sings, acts, paints and writes poetry, and also plays the piano.  EXAMPLE

many abilities

11. This third grade was full of precocious children. One child had learned to read at two and another could do algebra at age 6.  EXAMPLE

 

active

 

 

12. I expected truthfulness from a doctor; I was shocked by his mendacity. CONTRAST

duplicity

 

 

 

13. When my grandfather meets someone with that much knowledge in a field, he finds that their erudition frightens him and he is inclined to withdraw. RESTATEMENT

 

scholarliness

 

 

14. When going to an office party you should show your best decorum, for example, dress your best, drink and eat moderately, and be sure to thank the host before you leave. EXAMPLE

civility

 

 

 

15. We thought that the mother would be very distraught at hearing of her husband's accident; however, she took the news quite calmly. CONTRAST

 

 

 

anxious

16. It is refreshing to see students so excited, so zealous in doing their homework. RESTATEMENT

 

dedicated