Name_____________________ Context Clues Mr. Levine
Using Context to Determine Word Meaning
The questions on standardized tests often require you to discern the meaning of a word using its context. Using the group of words surrounding an underlined term or phrase will help you to determine the meaning of idioms, expressions, words with multiple meanings, figurative language, unfamiliar words, and specialized or technical terms. There are a number of methods that you can use to do this.
I. Vocabulary from context. The context of a word is its environment or the words which surround it. By looking closely at the surrounding words, you can pick up hints or clues that will help you with the meaning of a difficult word. Research has shown that most good readers use context clues regularly. It has also been shown that these readers are generally aware of the different types of context clues. Knowing something about these different types can help sharpen your word attack skills and improve your overall reading ability.
Example: The word scale has no exact meaning without a sentence. It may mean:
1) …part of the outer covering of a fish.
2) …an instrument for weighing.
3) …a series of musical notes
4) … To climb; ascend.
The problem with a familiar word like scale is to know which of its several meanings is intended. We must see a word in a
sentence so that context clues can give us the answer. They also may help us to understand the meaning of an unfamiliar
word. What does scale mean in the following sentence?
By piling the old wooden cartons one on top of another and climbing on top of the stack, Jen and Frank managed to scale the
high stone wall and drop down on the other side.
1. Read the sentence, leaving out the unfamiliar word.
2. Find clues in the sentence to figure out the word’s meaning.
3. Read the sentence again, substituting your possible meaning.
B. Types of context clues:
1. Examples as clues:
Look for clue words like: for example, such as, for instance, like, including, and especially.
Example: Feeling such as tiredness, sluggishness, and indifference often create a lethargic state.
2. Clues supplied through synonyms:
Example Carol is fond of using trite, worn-out expressions in Her writing. Her favorite is “You can lead a horse
to water, but you can’t make him drink”
3. Clues contained in comparisons and contrasts:
Look for words like: but, on the contrary, unlike, however, although, in contrast to, and whereas.
Example: Unlike his laughing, victorious enemy, the defeated player looked despondent.
4. Clues Through associations with other words:
Example: Jim is considered the most troublesome student ever to have walked the halls of Central High. He has
not passed a single class in four years there and seldom makes through an entire hour of class without falling
asleep or getting sent to the office. His teachers consider him completely incorrigible.
5. Clues which appear in a series:
Example: The dulcimer, fiddle, and banjo are all popular among the Appalachian Mountain people.
6. Clues provided by the tone and setting:
Example: The streets filled instantly with bellicose protesters, who pushed and shoved their way through the frantic
bystanders. The scene was no longer peaceful and calm as the marchers had promised it would be.
7. Clues attained from cause and effect:
Look for words like: because, since, therefore, and when.
Example: Since nobody came to the first voluntary work session, attendance for the second one is mandatory
for all the members.
Note: Some context clues are not so direct as those listed above. They might be simply examples, results, or general statements; still, these indirect clues can be very helpful. Finally, You should realize that context clues do not always show up immediately. In a lengthy piece of writing, for example the clues might not appear until several paragraphs later. Alert readers will be aware of this and continue to look for clues as they read. The more clues you can find as a reader, the closer you can get to the specific meaning of a word and, in turn, the overall meaning of the passage.
A. In addition to context clues, an analysis of a word’s parts may also provide clues to its meanings. If you know what some of the meanings of a word’s parts, you can often guess the meaning of an unfamiliar word.