Vocabulary is the knowledge of words and word meanings.

According to Steven Stahl (2005)

“Vocabulary knowledge is knowledge; the knowledge of a word not only implies a definition, but also implies how that word fits into the world.”

Vocabulary knowledge is not something that can ever be fully mastered; it is something that expands and deepens over the course of a lifetime. Instruction in vocabulary involves far more than looking up words in a dictionary and using the words in a sentence.

Vocabulary is acquired incidentally through indirect exposure to words and intentionally through explicit instruction in specific words and word-learning strategies.

At High School, I have many a time engaged CONTEXT CLUES to teach Vocabulary and it has been very effective.


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:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.

girl writing on a black keyboardSYNONYMS

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

In each of the following groups, circle the item that means the same as the boldface word in the introductory phrase:

  1. eschew easy solutions A. shun B. avoid C. condemn D. embrace
  2. germane comments:          A. harsh   B. relevant   C. apt   D. recent
  3. a coherent account: A. lengthy B. humorous C. muddled   D. clear
  4. move with celerity:   A. promptness B. sluggishness C. furtiveness   D. emptiness
  5. a pejorative connotation: A. neutral B. favourable   C. ambiguous   D. derogatory
  6. overt hostility: A. concealed   B. open      C. unwarranted     D. recent
  7. a legislative gambit: A. session   B. right   C. plan   D. concern
  8. a myopic approach to the problem: A. farsighted      B. fallacious     C. conventional   D. shortsighted
  9. an avid jogger: A. elderly   B. injured   C. passionate      D. reluctant
  10. a devious answer: A. dishonest   B. roundabout   C. correct   D. incorrect
  11. nefarious practices: A. wicked    B. ancient      C. widespread     D. commendable
  12. a verdant landscape: A. rocky   B. green   C. arid   D. snowy
  13. an articulate speaker: A. forceful   B. halting   C. fluent     D. public
  14. decry our efforts: A. praise     B. criticize   C. study     D. notice
  15. a piquant charm: A. interesting     B. sarcastic   C. subtle   D. bland

ANSWERS: 1B  2B  3D  4A  5D  6B  7C  8D  9C  10A 11A 12B  13C  14B  15A

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

Good luck in all your endeavours.

As of old: BE EMPOWERED and EXCEL!


  1. Carol May says:

    Hi I feel that this is a very useful website I will possibly use it in the future!!

  2. Andrew mutyavaviri says:

    Picked a few pointers from yo latest instalment pertaining to hw one cn easily find e meaning of a vocabulary esp contextually. Always thought e lexicon ws e be all nd end all fo one’s vocabulary needs. Thanks mate fo e great lesson

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