Vocabulary in Context Study Guide
Vocabulary in Context
This lesson focuses on figuring out the meanings of new words from clues around them, and provides sample exercises to help you practice using this invaluable skill.
Before you begin this lesson, make sure you understand the meaning of context:
context (noun): (1) the sentence in which a word appears that often helps the reader understand its meaning
(2)the surroundings, circumstances, environment, background, or settings that determine, specify, or clarify the meaning of an ev
Looking at the context in which an unfamiliar word appears may be an easy way to determine the word's meaning. You've been doing just that all your life without even thinking about it. When you were an infant and beginning to understand words, your parents taught you by using context. For example, your mother might have handed you a piece of apple and said, apple. So that's how you learned the word, by connecting it in context to a crunchy, juicy object you could eat!
Now, you're older and reading on your own, but you can use the same kinds of surrounding clues to determine the meanings of words new to you. Here's an example of how it works. What's the meaning of the underlined word in the following sentence?
Sherlock Holmes deciphered the mystery of the crook's identity by puzzling out the clues left behind at the scene of the crime.
If you chose d, you figured out the meaning of decipher by using other words in the sentence. Knowing that Sherlock Holmes was trying to solve a crime helped you eliminate words that didn't make sense, like forgot, photographed, and wrote. The words puzzling out probably helped you, too. And through a process of elimination, you figured out that in this sentence, deciphered means "discovered." Here's the dictionary definition of decipher:
- decipher (verb): to make out the meaning of something that is difficult to read
- Example: I cannot decipher his handwriting.
When you learn a new word, try to use it soon (and frequently) in everyday speech. Record the new word in your personal word book, and make a point of using it in the next day or so.
Circle in pencil (in case you change your mind) the choice you think is the correct definition of the italicized word. If you don't know the meaning of the word italicized, you should be able to figure it out from the context. An explanation of the correct answer follows each question, so read slowly and carefully— and don't peek ahead at the explanation!
- Make sure you give your parents explicit directions for where to pick you up after soccer practice.
- clearly stated
- in chronological order
- Although it was futile, Tom insisted on applying to become a member of the girls' soccer team, even though he knew he didn't meet the most basic requirement.
- Brittany considered her parents' rules an enigma; she couldn't understand why they wanted her to be home so early every afternoon.
- an enemy
- a solution
- a mystery
- a good idea
- The principal is extremely popular with the students because he is a strong advocate of students' rights.
- One component of Tim's outfit was a baseball cap turned sideways on his head; another was his sagging pants.
- The decision to convert the school year to a ten-month calendar was very controversial among both students and teachers.
- creating popularity
- causing excitement
- creating profits
- causing disagreement
- Jennifer implied that she wanted to be Jim's girlfriend, but she didn't say so directly.
- The squeaks made by bats are usually too high-pitched to be perceived by humans.
- Humor is the predominant theme of many animated television shows, including The Simpsons.
- most important
- Almost every Saturday night Jeremy implemented a plan for sneaking out of the house late at night without his parents ever realizing that he was gone.
- put into action
- dreamed up
You can eliminate complicated and in chronological order because they don't make sense. Why would you want to give complicated directions? That wouldn't help anyone get there to pick you up in time. And chronological order means putting things in sequence according to when they happened. This sentence is about something that will happen in the future. Factual also doesn't make sense because it suggests there are two kinds of directions—factual ones and imaginary ones! So, by a process of elimination, you should choose clearly stated as the meaning of explicit.
The context tells you that Tom doesn't meet the most basic requirement, so you can eliminate possible and fruitful, both of which suggest good, positive outcomes for his application. Futile means "useless," producing no result, like Tom's application.
The second half of the sentence tells you Brittany doesn't understand the rules, so you can eliminate an enemy and a good idea. It's unlikely that she considers their rules a solution, so you should have chosen a mystery. An enigma is something that's puzzling or difficult to understand.
You might have picked enemy because some students don't like their principal, but the context of the sentence tells you that this principal is popular. So you can eliminate opponent as well. Member isn't logical; students and principals aren't usually members of the same group. Supporter is the right choice here. To be an advocate means to actively support an idea or a group.
This is a difficult choice. The word component means one of several parts that make up a whole, usually a machine or a system. For example, earphones are a component of an iPod. So part is the best choice. But you might have chosen either distraction or disappointment, if any surrounding sentences seemed to criticize Tim's general appearance.
As a student, you probably found this choice fairly easy. You can eliminate creating profit, because it would be highly unlikely for changing the calendar to make money for the school. The fact that both students and teachers are involved here should help you choose either a or d. Choice a is a logical possibility; there may be students somewhere in the world who want a shorter summer, but have you ever met one? The correct choice is d. Something that's controversial causes disagreement; it's something about which people have different opinions.
The context tells you that Jennifer has chosen not to say something directly, so the definition of the word implied is already in the sentence, waiting for you to learn it. To imply means to suggest that something is true without stating it clearly.
Did you choose noticed? Then you chose wisely. To perceive is to become aware of, recognize, or understand by means of the senses, such as hearing. You might have chosen imitated or enjoyed, both of which make sense, but don't accurately convey the entire meaning of perceive. They are more specialized, specific words, and here, the more general term noticed is the best choice.
You might have been able to decipher the meaning of predominant because it sounds similar to the word dominate, a word you might already know. The correct answer here is a. Predominant means "more noticeable, more prominent, having more power or more visibility than others." Context tells you that humor is one of several themes, so you might have chosen b or c, but the root word dominant confirms that the right choice is a. You'll learn more about root words in Lesson 6.
In this sentence, context tells you that Jeremy got out every Saturday night without being discovered. Thus, the correct answer is c. He did both plan and dream up the escape, and he did succeed, but only choice c describes getting away with it. To implement means to make something happen. In this case, your choice depended on your awareness of the word's connotation—you'll learn more about connotations in Lesson 4.
This lesson gave you practice in figuring out word meaning from context. In the future, when you hear or read a word you don't know, instead of feeling frustrated or choosing to skip over the new word, use your meaning from context skills to figure out what the word means. You'll be pleased to find that often, you can teach yourself a new word just that easily!
Words You Should Now Know
Extra Word(s) You Learned in This Lesson
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