Vocabulary in Context

Context clues are words and phrases in a sentence which help you reason out the meaning of an unfamiliar word.  Oftentimes you can figure out the meanings of new or unfamiliar vocabulary by paying attention to the surrounding language.  The table below gives the types of clues, signals and examples of each clue.

  Type of Context Clue   Definition   Signals Examples
  Antonym or Contrast Clue   Phrases or words that indicate opposite  
but, in contrast, however, instead of, unlike, yet
Unlike his quiet and low key family, Brad is garrulous.
  Definition or Example Clue   Phrases or words that define or explain  
is defined as, means, the term, [a term in boldface or italics] set off with commas
Sedentary individuals, people who are not very active, often have diminished health.
  General Knowledge   The meaning is derived from the experience and background knowledge of the reader; "common sense" and logic.  
the information may be something basically familiar to you
Lourdes is always sucking up to the boss, even in front of others. That sycophant  just doesn't care what others think of her behavior.
  Restatement or Synonym Clue   Another word or phrase with the same or a similar meaning is used.  
in other word, that is, also known as, sometimes called, or
The dromedary, commonly called a camel, stores fat in its hump.

In addition to context clues are word parts: prefixes, roots and suffixes.  Some textbooks refer to this as word analysis. These come into the English language from several other languages, and many of the oldest are Greek or Latin in origin.  There are many books which you can use to study word analysis.  You may also find several online sites that are excellent resources.

Practice Vocabulary


Last Update 12Oct05