The acquisition of vocabulary is one of the most important task in language learning. If you have enough words, you can make sense of what you are reading or listening to and you can somehow express yourself.
In short, vocabulary acquisition is much more important than grammar. The grammar we have is acquired gradually as we become familiar with the language, with the words, but first of all we need words.
Context clues are hints that an author gives to help define a difficult or unusual word. The clue may appear within the same sentence as the word to which it refers, or it may follow in a preceding sentence. Because most of one’s vocabulary is gained through reading, it is important that you are able to recognize and take advantage of context clues.
Thus, whether you are someone learning English as a second language or a reader who is trying to build their vocabulary, by knowing the different types of context clues, you may be better able to recognize and understand new words when you are reading.
Types Of Context Clues
There are at least FIVE kinds of context clues that are quite common:
1) RESTATEMENT/SYNONYM CLUES – Here, sometimes a hard word or phrase is said in a simple way. Notice how the meaning of the darkened word is arrived at:
- It was an idyllic day; sunny, warm and perfect for a walk in the park.
- Her animosity, or hatred, of her sister had divided the family.
- Bill felt remorse, or shame, for his harsh words.
- This situation is a conundrum – a puzzle.
2) CONTRAST/ANTONYM CLUES – Sometimes a word or phrase is clarified by the presentation of the opposite meaning somewhere close to its use. Look for signal words when applying context clues. Notice how the meaning of the darkened word is arrived at:
- Emma had a lot of anxiety about the exam but I had no worries about it.
- Marty is gregarious, not like his brother who is quiet and shy.
- Instead of making risky decisions like his brother, George took precautions.
3) DEFINITION/EXPLANATION – Here the meaning of the unknown word is clearly given within the sentence or in the sentence immediately afterwards.
- There is great prosperity in the country but many citizens are living in poverty.
- Some celestial bodies, such as the planets and stars, can be seen with the naked eye.
- There was a lot of tangible evidence, including fingerprints and DNA, to prove them guilty.
- There is a 30 percent chance of precipitation, such as snow or sleet.
4) INFERENCE/GENERAL CONTEXT CLUES – Sometimes a word or phrase is immediately clarified within the same sentence. Relationships, which are not directly apparent, are inferred or implied. The reader must look for clues within, before, and after the sentence in which the word is used. The meaning can easily be inferred from the general context of the sentence or paragraph. Consider these sentences:
- The team was elated when they won the trophy.
- During the demonstration, a skirmish broke out and the police were called to restore order.
- The cat has a kind disposition and would never bite or claw anyone.
5) EXAMPLE (specific types of the unknown word are given in the sentence. The unknown word is usually a non-specific noun. What is a beverage as shown in the sentence?
- What type of beverage would you like? We have soda, water, lemonade, sweet tea and apple juice.
6) PUNCTUATION – Here Readers can also use clues of punctuation and type style to infer meaning, such as quotation marks (showing the word has a special meaning), dashes , parentheses or brackets (enclosing a definition), and italics (showing the word will be defined).
Notice how Punctuation is used in these sentence to define a word, haberdasher:
- Tom’s father was a haberdasher, or men’s shop keeper, in the story.
- Tom’s father was a haberdasher (men’s shop keeper) in the story.
- In the story, Tom’s father was a haberdasher-or men’s shop keeper.
- Tom’s father was a “haberdasher”. He had a clothing store for men.
I have compiled a list of English@High School High Frequency Word List through phrasal sentences in which a highlighted word is used. Your task is to master the context in which the word is used so that when you write you pick the right word and vocabulary.
Again, Dear Reader, this needs practice.
A SYNONYM is a word or phrase that means exactly or nearly the same as another word or phrase.
In each of the following groups, the boldface word in the introductory phrase is given its meaning at the end.
- Waited for the storm to abate: decrease
- Abdicated the throne: renounce
- Aberrant nature of data: abnormal
- A coherent plan of action: meaningful
- Unwilling to abet: encourage
- Abhorred all forms of . . : detest/dislike
- Live in abject poverty: wretched
- An abominable act: detestable
- Abandoned their abortive attempt: unsuccessful
- Abridge the novel: shorten
- Absolved him of his sins: pardoned
- A convivial group: merry
- Abstained from drinking: refrained
- summarily took control: briefly
- tenable conclusions: justifiable and defensible
- her memoirs contained fascinating anecdotes: short account of an event/stories
- watching the council in action is analogous to …: means comparable to …
- Our plans are still amorphous: lacking shape or definition
- . . . attempted to ameliorate the condition: improve
- His ambiguous instructions . . .: unclear, or doubtful in meaning
TOP TIP: Create flash cards – As you learn new vocabulary, try to scan through words that caused most difficult by creating pocket-sized flash cards for those unmastered expressions. Be brief, but include all the information you need: on one side write the word and the other side concise definitions of two/three words at most. You may include an antonym, if you can; and thus the synonym-antonym associations can help you remember both words. To fix the word in your mind, use it in a short phrase like the above words. Then write that phrase down.
Once again Dear Reader, with practice you will see your vocabulary improving so much: both written and spoken.
Lastly, READ SPECIAL VOCABULARY BOOKS
Reading is a good way to learn new words, but what you read can also make a huge difference in how much you learn.
Choose books that are a little bit challenging for you, and you will learn a lot more than if you read at your level. If you read a book at your level, you may already know all the words. If you read a challenging book, you will need to learn many new words.
Good luck in all your endeavours.