How to Define Words Using Context

Often, a reader will come across a word that he does not recognize. The reader needs to know how to identify the definition of a word from its context. This means defining a word based on the words around it and the way it is used in a sentence. For instance, consider the following sentence: The elderly scholar spent his evenings hunched over arcane texts that few other people even knew existed. The adjective arcane is uncommon, but the reader can obtain significant information about it based on its use here. Based on the fact that few other people know of their existence, the reader can assume that arcane texts must be rare and only of interest to a few people. And, because they are being read by an elderly scholar, the reader can assume that they focus on difficult academic subjects. Sometimes, words can even be defined by what they are not. For instance, consider the following sentence: Ron’s fealty to his parents was not shared by Karen, who disobeyed their every command. Because someone who disobeys is not demonstrating fealty, the word can be inferred to mean something like obedience or respect.


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Last updated: 02/26/2018
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