Guessing meaning from context.
(How to hunt down the meaning of a word by using the clues
Guessing meaning from context
“ when you want to define the meaning of unknown words”
• Context refers to the words surrounding an unfamiliar word. These
surrounding words provide clues to the meaning of an unfamiliar
• Clues are hints or things that suggest the meaning of the unfamiliar
• Using contextual clues to understand the meaning of unfamiliar words
helps the reader save time.
• The ability to guess meaning from context is a useful skill to practice
and try to improve.
• The things which will help you work out the meaning of an unfamiliar
a) the meaning of the text which surrounds it;
b) the way the word is formed;
c) your own background knowledge of the subject.
d) using different kinds of contextual clues
Types of Contextual clues
Definition Repetition Punctuation Examples
Similarity Contrast Surrounding Pictures
Experience Background Imagination
o A definition gives the meaning of words. The writer may use words,
phrases, or statements to define something.
o The unknown word is equated to a more familiar word or phrase;
usually a form of to be (is/are/am/was/were) is used.
o Archaeology is the scientific study of prehistoric cultures by excavation of
o Entomology is the study of insects
• Paula is a transcriptionist, a person who makes a written
copy of a recorded message
• The factory supervisor demanded an inspection, which is
a careful and critical examination of all of the meats
processed each day.
* Repetition is the occurrence of using words have occurred
*There are several kinds of repetition where words or certain
phrases are repeated for a stronger emphasis by the author and
they refer to the meaning of aforementioned words.
1) He is such a mournful person that just being around him makes me
so sad, too
Key word : Mournful
Definition : Being around him makes me so sad
Repetition : sad, too
2) Many ships have vanished during hurricanes. All crews have disappeared and
have never been found
Key word : vanished
Definition : disappeared
Repetition : have never been found
* Punctuation is used to describe the meaning of unfamiliar words.
* Writers will use punctuation to help the reader of an unfamiliar
* Look for a comma or dash that will precede a clue about an
• Sometimes sentences set off the definition for the unknown
word by using punctuation clues.
• Example: dash
1) There is an incertitude - an uncertainty- about when
eyeglasses were first invented.
2) The addax, a large light colored animal much similar
to the antelope, has a pair of spiral horns.
*Italics - show that the word will be defined
- Justin is a dermatologist, or doctor that cares for and
treats the skin.
*Quotation marks – show that the word has a special meaning
- Justin practices “dermatology”; he diagnoses and treats
ailments of the skin.
* Dashes, brackets or parentheses – enclose a definition
- Justin is a dermatologist – a doctor who treats skin ailments –
* Parentheses – will surround a definition
- Justin is a dermatologist (person who treats and cares for the
- Brackets - will surround a definition
* Justin is a dermatologist [person who treats and cares for the
Use the punctuation clues to find the meaning of the underlined
1) A tornado, a violent storm of twisting wind, struck Edmonton and
caused a lot of damage
A tornado is _________________________________
2) Anne has very red hair and she’s very self-conscious about it.
Similarly, she’s very embarrassed by her freckles – small brown
spots on her nose and cheeks.
A Freckle is _______________________________________________
* Help us to understand the meaning of new words.
* Sometimes, the author help you by giving some examples for their
for example, …
is / are
* The street is crowded with conveyances of all descriptions,
such as buses, bicycles, cars and lorries
• - clues/ example:
• Conveyances is _________________________________
* I use the following condiments of my hamburger like relish, ketchup
* clues/ example:
* Condiment is __________________________________________________
* The river is badly polluted. It’s full of noxious materials, for example
animal waste, agricultural waste and industrial waste.
* clues/ example:
* Noxious is ___________________________________________________
• Some sentences use contrast to show between two or more items.
• Key words:
*My friend is very diligent, but her brother is very lazy
but instead of /even though/ in contrast to
yet in spite of /although as opposed to
Unlike/ despite /however /on the other hand
whereas fond of still provided that
One plate of rice usually suffices for me, but one plate
isn’t enough for my husband.
b. A little
d. A few
* Mr. Lee was reluctant to go out again after coming home from work.
Mrs. Lee, however was eager to go out for dinner
* Nora loves shopping but her fiancée abhors it.
* Show similarities between items.
* It is possible to figure out the meaning of the new word from the
like similarly in the same way
as the same As just as
*The smell of the flower was as compelling as a magnet’s pull
on a paper clip
*- Compelling is ___________
*Adam is as passive as a bear in a winter
*- Passive is ______________
*You may look for new words or unfamiliar words and try to
guess them if you cannot find any signal words or key words
as stated before
Children are too young to understand that swallowing gum can
cause medical problems and so they shouldn't be allowed
to chew it, doctors say.
•unfamiliar words: swallowing and chew
-What do these words mean?
-How do you guess their meaning?
Experience and background knowledge
• Any experiences and background knowledge play an important
role in reading comprehension.
• Sometimes you can figure out the meaning for a word using your
• During those first bewildering weeks, the thoughts of a college
freshmen drift back to high school where he was “in”, knew
everyone and felt at home. A feeling of nostalgia sweeps over him.
* Referent clues is when an unknown word is referred to (mentioned) again
using a synonym or explanation of the word.
* Synonyms often follow words like this, that, these, those, or the.
Sometimes, however, there is no obvious clue word. The reader just sees
that the meanings are probably similar from the ideas in the sentence.
* Look at this example:
* Yesterday some shysters came to my door. Those dishonest men
pretended they were doing a survey and then tried to convince me to
buy a magazine.
* A shyster is _______________________________________________
*A picture can help you to guess the meaning of a new
word as a saying goes
“a picture is worth a thousand words”
They had on exultant look on their face.
Exultant = ___________
* You may use many strategies as stated previously to understand new
words. However, sometimes you may not understand the text.
Therefore, in that case, you can use your imagination in that case.
Outside, stood a tall man wearing a black raincoat and black rubber boots. He said
that he was a salesman and asked politely if our mother or father was at home.
Then, as I was about to close the door, he forced his way into our house. He took
out a knife and forced me to tie up my brother's hands with some rope which he
took out from his pocket. I tied up his hands but I tied it in a special way so my
brother could untie himself. The man then tied my hands up and locked both of us
in the kitchen.
-A tall man with black raincoat and black rubber boots (mysterious, antagonist).
-as I was about to close the door, he forced his way into our house. (breaking-in,