Context Clues

What a reader needs to know to
understand unknown words.
Context clues are bits of information from the
text along with prior knowledge that allow the
reader to decide the meaning of unknown
words in the text being read.
A reader must act like a detective and put
together the clues from the text surrounding
the unknown word in order to make an
intelligent “guess” about the word’s meaning.
Writers and authors include words or phrases
to help the readers understand the meaning of
new or difficult words.
The words or phrases are included into the text
surrounding the new or difficult word. Readers
can make logical guesses about the meaning of
a word by being aware of the surrounding text.
Definition: Often a sentence will include the
actual definition of the word. Example: Many
people suffer from acrophobia, the fear of
heights, and are not comfortable climbing
The definition is given as an appositive phrase
in the sentence. An appositive phrase is a noun
phrase that explains a noun.
Example: Often a sentence will provide
examples and details which help you see and
understand the word even if you don’t know
the exact definition.
Example: Mr. Smith is a recluse. He lives alone
in the country and rarely comes to town. The
word is explained with examples and details in
the following sentence.
Synonyms: Like definitions, the sentence
includes words that are synonyms to help the
reader understand the new or difficult word.
Example: After seeing the movie about
starving children, we felt compassion and pity
for the suffering children. Pity is a synonym
for compassion.
Antonym or contrast: Sometimes the writer or
author uses a contrast or the antonym of an
unknown word.
Example: Unlike Frank, who is extremely
nervous, Benson is placid. Placid has to be the
opposite of nervous. Then placid must mean
calm or relaxed.
Logic: The reader’s prior knowledge is used to
help understand words.
Example: After hearing the baby cry, the
mother put a pacifier in the baby’s mouth. The
crying stopped immediately. Prior knowledge
about babies helps the reader to understand
that a pacifier is the plug or the stopper that is
used to calm babies.
Latin and Greek word parts: By knowing
Latin and Greek stems, prefixes, and suffixes,
the reader will have clues about unfamiliar
Example: While studying marine biology,
Cyndi was drawn to cephalopods in particular.
By knowing that cephala refers to the head and
pod refers to feet, the reader understands that
squids and octopi are sea animals with their
feet attached to their heads.
Parts of speech: By knowing the part of speech
of an unknown word, the reader knows more
about the word.
Example: John got into his jalopy and drove
down the road. Since his in front of jalopy, the
reader knows that jalopy is a noun. This helps
the reader know more about the word.

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