The College Board’s SAT textbook has a 3 500 Basic Word List of which students must master in order to do well in their exams. The list is divided into High Frequency words and Hot Prospects. From this premise, the importance of vocabulary is highly accentuated:

  • “Without grammar very little can be conveyed; without vocabulary nothing can be conveyed.” (Wilkins 1972)

  • “When students travel, they don’t carry grammar books, they carry dictionaries.” (Krashen 1993)

The truth is that students need multiple and various exposures to a word before they fully understand that word and can apply it. They need also to learn words in context, not stand alone lists that come and go each week. Of course the way we learn words in context, or implicitly, is by reading, then reading some more.

pexels-photo-256417.jpegCONTEXT CLUES

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.


There are at least SIX 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 boldfaced 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.

So, what is a synonym? It is a word or phrase that has the same meaning as the unknown word and hints at the definition.

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  – This is when 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 – 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 the following sentences 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.

The Library

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 two-fold:

  • Firstly, master the context in which the word is used so that when you write you pick the right word and vocabulary.
  • Secondly, I have exercises on vocabulary with answers given at the end. Try the exercises first before getting to the answers.

Again, Dear Reader, this needs practice.

To make it manageable, I have fifteen words for each category.

  1. Forced to abase herself – lower, humiliate
  2. Abashed by her admiration – embarrassed
  3. The storm abated – subsided, decreased
  4. Abdicated the throne – renounced, gave up
  5. Aberrant nature of . . . – abnormal or deviant
  6. Unwilling to abet – aid, usually in doing something wrong, encourage
  7. Abhorred all forms of . . . – detested, hated
  8. Abjured his allegiance – renounced upon oath
  9. Act of abnegation – repudiation, self-sacrifice
  10. Refused to abolish – cancel, put an end to
  11. An abominable act – detestable, extremely unpleasant, very bad
  12. Abortive attempt – unsuccessful, fruitless
  13. Abridge the novel – condense or shorten
  14. Absolved of his sins – pardoned (an offense)
  15. The teller absconded – departed secretly and hide

In the second batch I am working on synonyms.

A SYNONYM is a word or phrase that means exactly or nearly the same as another word or phrase.

writing-notes-idea-conference.jpgIn each of the following groups, circle the item that means the same as the boldface word in the introductory phrase:

  1. histrionic behavior : A. theatrical B. proper C. subdued D. strange
  2. abrogate the treaty: A. ratify B. cancel C. enforce   D. sign
  3. Surprised by the perspicacity: A. discernment B. betrayal C. obtuseness  D. foolishness
  4. an incongruous remark: A. courteous B. unsuitable C. lengthy D. scholarly
  5. An ephemeral success: a. enduring b. short-lived c. phenomenal     d. enviable
  6. Exacerbate the problem: a. aggravate b. alleviate c. ignore     d. discuss
  7. Recant her testimony: a. corroborate b. record    c. read back      d. retract
  8. Countermand a directive: a. revoke b. issue c. clarify    d. ignore
  9. Irrefutable evidence: a. tainted b. circumstantial    c. indisputable    d. dubious
  10. Amused by their badinage: a. excuses b. banter c. appearance    d. singing
  11. 11. banal lyrics: A. sentimental common C. humorous   D. effective
  12. tired of their carping: A. nit-picking B. antics C. excuses  D. incompetence
  13. an intransigent opponent: A. weak B. temporary C. versatile  D. unyielding
  14. arrogate a right A. desire B. waive  C. assume  D. defend
  15. a speech filled with encomiums: A. wisdom B. platitudes C. criticisms  D. praise

ANSWERS: 1a  2b  3a  4b  5b  6a  7d  8a  9c  10b 11b 12a  13d  14c  15d

How did you fair? Once again Dear Reader, with practice you will see your vocabulary improving so much: both written and spoken.

Good luck in all your endeavours.

As of old: BE EMPOWERED and EXCEL!

Leave a Reply