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Building Vocabulary

Learning from context


Context clues are words and sentences around an unfamiliar word that explain its meaning. Three types of context clues are definition, example, and general context. The definition, or meaning, of the unfamiliar word may be given in the sentence. Clue words such as that is, in other words, or which means tell you that a definition is following.

Sometimes examples are given to explain an unfamiliar word. The clue words like, for example, including, or such as often come before an example. If there are no special clue words in the sentence, you can use the general context. That is, you can use the details in the words or sentences around the new word to determine its meaning. Darla is a philatelist, which means that she collects stamps. (The clue words which means tell you that the word philatelist means stamp collector.)

Bovines, including domestic cattle and the American bison, are an important source of food for many cultures. (The word including introduces examples of bovines. From the examples you can guess that bovines are members of the cattle family.) Armand took the rough stones to a lapidary. She was going to cut, grind, and polish the stones so that they could be set in silver bracelets. (The general context tells you that a lapidary has something to do with making jewelry. A lapidary is a person who works with gemstones.)

Roots
You can often figure out the meaning of an unfamiliar word by dividing it into parts. The main part of the word is called the root, and it carries the words basic meaning. A root is often a word by itself. For example, read is a word. When a prefix or suffix is added to it, read becomes a root, as in unreadable.

Prefixes and suffixes can be added to a root to change its meaning. A prefix is added to the beginning of a root. A suffix is added to the end of a root. A word can have both a prefix and a suffix: un + read + able = unreadable.

The root of a word carries the main meaning. Some roots, like read, can stand alone. Other roots may have parts added to make a complete word. For example, dict means to say. Combined with a suffix, it can become dictionary and dictator. And combined with a prefix, it can become predict. Other examples are: biography, biosphere, phonograph, telephone, flexible, reflect etc.

Prefixes
A prefix is a word part that is added to the beginning of a word and changes its meaning. An understanding of prefixes and their meanings will help you learn new words. The king was dethroned. (The prefix demeans remove from or reduce; therefore, the king was removed from his throne.)

PREFIX
innot

MEANING

EXAMPLE
indirect

MEANING
not direct

nonun-

without, not
opposite of, not to reverse

nonstop, nonsalable
unclean, untie

without stopping, unable to be sold


not clean, to loosen

prede-

before
remove from, reduce opposite of, not

prepay
dethrone, degrade disagree

to pay in advance
remove from throne, to make lower not agree

dis-

Suffix
A suffix is a word part that is added to the end of a word and changes its part of speech and its meaning. Adding the suffix -er to read (a verb) makes reader (a noun). Adding -less to face (a noun) makes faceless (an adjective).

SUFFIX -er

MEANING one who, that which


one who one who without can be/having the quality of can be/ having the quality of quality of/ state of being

EXAMPLE baker, dicer


debtor clarinetist changeless washable valuable deductible sensible gentleness greatness

MEANING one who bakes, a device that chops or dices vegetables


one who owes a debt one who plays a clarinet without change can be washed having value can be deducted, having sense quality of being gentle, State of being great

-or -ist -less -able -ible -ness

Synonym
Synonyms are words that have similar meanings. Knowing synonyms can help you understand new words. Some dictionaries list synonyms with the definition of a word. A thesaurus is a special dictionary that lists all synonyms. Because each synonym has a slightly different meaning, choosing the right one can help you say exactly what you mean.

EXAMPLE: The cat sprang at the ball of yarn. (Substituting a synonym such as jumped or leaped could help in understanding the unfamiliar word sprang.) The man walked to the store. (Ambled and trudged are synonyms for walked. Using one of these synonyms would give a slightly different meaning to the sentence.)

Antonyms
Antonyms are words that have opposite or nearly opposite meanings. Knowing antonyms can also help you understand unfamiliar words. Common ones are hot cold, large-small, and love-hate. Many antonyms can be formed by adding a prefix meaning not. Adding un- to bending makes unbending, the antonym to bending.

Homonyms
Homonyms are words that sound, and are spelt alike but have different meanings. Be careful to choose the correct word for the meaning you want to use. Examples of homonyms are: Bank (the side of a river) Bank (institution for placing and borrowing money)

Pupil (a student) Pupil (part of an eye) Rock (a type of music) Rock (a huge stone) Slip (to fall down) Slip (a piece of paper) Mole (a pigmented spot on the skin) Mole (a big rat)

Homophones
Homophones are words that sound alike but are spelt differently. Examples of homophones are: Sea (a water body) See (to look) Meat (flesh) Meet (to come face to face)

Flower (a part of plant) Flour (powder used for making bread) Pail (a bucket) Pale (light in color) Here (this place) Hear (listen)