Using Context Clues | Reading Comprehension


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Context

Sometimes, when you’re reading and you come across a word that you don’t know, you can use context clues to make an educated guess as to what the word means. When you’re looking at the word you don’t know, you don’t want to just look right before and after the word. You usually want to look at the sentence before, the sentence after, and sometimes even have to look at the whole paragraph to get an idea of what that unfamiliar word means.


There are some clues that we can look at to help determine what that word means. One thing you can look at is a description. Sometimes, the sentence or the sentence following or before the unfamiliar word will give you a description. For instance, “The green-feathered macaw”. Well, you may not know the word “macaw”, but by seeing “green-feathered”, you can infer that it is some kind of a bird with green feathers.


Another clue you could look at are synonyms. If you hear “The soft and supple leather”, since you have “soft” here, and then “supple”, both describing leather, you can figure out that “supple” probably has something to do with being soft, in reality, it means “moldable”. It’s easily moldable and it is somewhat soft to be able to do that. We’ll go ahead and note that this one was our bird.


Another clue you can look for are antonyms. “Angie sweet. She doesn’t have a malevolent bone in her body.” You may not know what “malevolent” means, but you probably know what “sweet” means. If she isn’t malevolent and she is sweet, then you can figure out that “malevolent” is something bad, something negative, the opposite of sweet. In reality, “malevolent” means “evil”.


Another clue you can look for are definitions. Sometimes the sentence before, after, or part of the same sentence or word is in, will just give you the definition of the word. For instance, “The echidna, an egg-laying mammal native to Australia…” and then they might tell you some interesting fact about the echidna. In commas, right after “echidna”, is the definition of an echidna: An egg-laying mammal native to Australia. You know what it is right there.


The last clue you can look for is tone. Is the rest of this paragraph positive, negative, happy, or scared? If you have a paragraph that’s all one tone, then the word probably has something to do with that. If it’s a scary tone, then this may be a word that has to do with something scary. If it’s positive, it may be a happy kind of word. You can always take that into consideration whenever you are taking your educated guess.


Once you’ve looked at clues and you’ve tried to figure out, looking before and after the sentence your word is in, looking at the whole paragraph, seeing if you can find a description, a synonym, an antonym, a definition, or figure out the tone surrounding that unfamiliar word, you want to take a guess as to what the word means. Then you want to reread the sentence to see if it makes sense to you and ask yourself if it makes sense. If we were to insert “bird” here: “The green-feathered bird…” Well, it’s something that has feathers and we have “bird” after it. That makes sense, so that one would work. “The soft and supple leather…” If we know it means something else soft, maybe moldable, we could say “The soft in moldable leather” or “The soft and flexible leather”.


Any kind of word like that that you put in that was similar to soft would work. It would make sense in your sentence. We were thinking evil here; something the opposite of sweet. “Angie is sweet. She doesn’t have an evil bone in her body.” That makes sense. She is sweet. She doesn’t have an evil bone. The echidna sentence is a little different. If they plug in a definition for you, then it’s a little harder to check. You would just say, “an egg-laying mammal native to Australia…” and then maybe tell the sentence after that point.


The definition is already there for you and there’s not really a synonym for an echidna or anything else you could have come up with for what that one meant. Once you’ve checked to make sure they all make sense, then you have a pretty good idea of what that word means. You can see how using these context clues of looking for a description, a synonym, an antonym, a definition, or the tone of a paragraph can help you figure out that pesky unfamiliar word.



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Last updated: 05/02/2018
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