You are on page 1of 3

Context Clues

The tools for when theres no dictionary! Main Concept The five types of context clues Details Definition/Restatement Association Synonym Antonym Comparison/Contrast

Definition or Restatement

The author defines or restates the word in different terms. Example 1: Bears have powerful olfactory capabilities, or sense of smell. The use of the comma, following the statement, and the signal word or it can be determined that the statement sense of smell is the definition of olfactory. If the sentence was simply written as, Bears have powerful olfactory capabilities, it would be difficult to determine the meaning of the word as there are no further context clues to help discern olfactorys meaning. However, once the phrase sense of smell is added you immediately get a sense of the true meaning of olfactory. This is what a definition context clue does for you. The definition can be found in another part of the same sentence in which the word appears or in another sentence shortly after the word. Example 2: The epidermis the outermost layer of skin protects the inner layers.

The dashes in this sentence create the same affect the comma created in the first example. The only difference is they allow the definition to be placed in the middle of the sentence, before the entire statement about the epidermis has been made.

Association Description

The author provides examples to explain an unfamiliar word. Example: The restaurant serves crustaceans, such as lobster, crab, and shrimp. The use of examples in this sentence allows the reader to develop their own definition of crustaceans through the use of their background knowledge. If you look at the sentence you can determine that a crustacean must be some type of food since it is served at a restaurant. You would not know this unless youd been to a restaurant. You can also determine that a crustacean has an outer shell and a set of pinchers since lobsters, crabs and shrimp all have outer shells that must be broken through in order to obtain the meat inside. As well, they have pinchers. This can only be determined using the readers background knowledge of what crab, lobsters and shrimp look like (and possibly what it takes to eat them). Finally, it can be determined that they are a type of sea food since all three of the crustaceans are found only in the ocean. Therefore, it can be determined that crustacean must mean an aquatic animal with a hard shell.


The author gives another word with a similar meaning. Example: It was up to the adjudicator, the judge, who will make the final decision.
Look Ms. Lively used a definition context clue in her explanation.

By describing an adjudicator as a judge the author is giving a synonym, or a word having nearly the same meaning, of what an adjudicator is. So, using the information provided by the synonym and the readers background knowledge it can be determined that an adjudicator must have some sort of power with a set of rules. They must also have the power to make a judgment within those rules, since thats what judges do. So, in this context, an adjudicator is someone who can determine, or settle, something judicially.


The author gives another word with an opposite meaning. Example: We thought the news would make her sad, but she was ecstatic. The word but indicates that the author is making a point, for the reader, that is contradictory to the rest of the statement. The word but is a conjunction that means the opposite. Knowing this allows the reader to plug the opposite back into the sentence in place of the word but. If this is done the sentence would read, We thought the news would make her sad, the opposite was she was ecstatic. This further indicates that ecstatic means the opposite of sad, so it must mean happy. Therefore, it can be determined that ecstatic means happy or delighted.


The author uses words that show how something is alike or different. Example 1 (Comparison): Like his irascible brother, Alex was short tempered.

The word like indicates that the subject of the sentences, Alex, is being compared to his brother. If they are being compared as irascible and Alex is shorttempered, then it can be determined that irascible most likely means quick to anger. Example 2 (Contrast): Liz was a hard worker, in contrast to her indolent co-workers.

The use of the phrase in contrast immediately sends up warning signals to the reader that what is coming next is most likely the opposite of what was just stated. If this is the case and Liz really is a hard worker then her co-workers must be the opposite, or lazy. If they are lazy, and described as indolent then the word may mean they are lazy or move at a very slow pace when completing things.