Sometimes, when we read a given portion of text, we’re not entirely sure what’s going on. This is where context clues come in. Context clues provide further information about a word or phrase that helps readers understand its meaning. These clues offer insight - either directly or indirectly - into the portion of text that’s difficult to understand. Let’s explore various examples of context clues to see how they work.
The most basic, and perhaps helpful, type of context clues are synonyms. If you can’t decipher a meaning, adding a few synonyms, or words with similar meanings, is a surefire way to point to a word’s meaning. Let’s take a look at a few examples:
- It was an idyllic day - sunny, warm, and perfect for a walk in the park.
- She hums continuously, or all the time, and it annoys me.
- The crime he committed was egregious; he’ll never recover from this horrendous scandal.
- His animosity, or hatred, of his sister divided the family.
- Bill felt remorse, or shame, for his harsh words.
- This situation is a conundrum, a puzzle that’s difficult to solve.
A synonym is one way to understand meaning. But, how about a straightforward definition? It’s hard to misconstrue a context clue when the actual definition is provided. Here are a few examples:
- The manager wanted a weekly inspection, which is a methodical examination of all the equipment.
- Diane was lethargic; she didn't have the energy to get out of bed.
- The dates are listed in chronological order; they start at the beginning and end with the last event.
- The doctor’s writing was utterly illegible; no one could read those scribbles.
- She heard the cry of the banshee, a spirit that alludes to the death of a family member.
- He knew his future was precarious and likely to fall apart.
Sometimes, the best way to understand something is to understand what not to do or what something isn’t. In the same way, an antonym, or an opposite, can convey meaning. If you point out the differences, you can come to understand each component better.
- Marty is gregarious, unlike his brother who is quiet and shy.
- Attempting to avoid the accident was futile; it was impossible for either of them to stop in time.
- This painting of the landscape is picturesque, while the one of the old house is just plain ugly.
- The feral cat would not let us pet him, unlike our friendly cat.
- Our sweltering summer days were quickly replaced by the cold flashes of fall.
- She was virtuous, unlike her evil and conniving brother.
Has a friend or family member ever asked you to just come right out with it? Sometimes, readers don’t want to search for your meaning. Instead, if you provide a bigger picture and offer added detail or context, the reader will come to understand the tricky word. Here are some examples:
- The team was elated because they just found out they placed in the semifinals.
- During the demonstration, a skirmish broke out so the police were called to restore order.
- We know the dog has a kind disposition because we’ve never seen her bite or scratch anyone.
- I called him a nuisance because he annoyed me with his incessant line of questioning.
- Something in the refrigerator is so putrid, a wave of odor wafted out when we opened the door.
- It’s no surprise he winced in pain after hitting his thumb with the hammer.
Even the most esteemed intellectuals have to look up a word from time to time. However, in the moments when we don’t have access to our cell phones or laptops, a couple strong context clues might help us understand a given line’s meaning.
In the meantime, there are a couple ways to ward off your uncertainty surrounding new words or phrases. Make it a goal to increase your vocabulary. These tips will help you set sail on a lifetime of learning.