Context Clues

Context Clues are hints that the author gives to help define a difficult or unusual word. The clue may appear within the same sentence as the word to which it refers, or it may follow in a preceding sentence. Because most of your vocabulary is gained through reading, it is important that you be able to recognize and take advantage of context clues.

Types of context clues. There are at least four kinds of context clues that are quite common.


A synonym, or word with the same meaning, is used in the sentence.

My opponent's argument is fallaciousmisleading – plain wrong.



A word or group of words that has the opposite meaning reveals the meaning of an unknown term.

Although some men are loquaciousothers hardly talk at all.



The unknown word is explained within the sentence or in a sentence immediately preceding.

The patient is so somnolent that she requires medication to help her stay awake for more than a short time.



Specific examples are used to define the term.

Celestial bodies, such as the sun, moon, and stars, are governed by predictable laws.

Read the following sentences and define the bolded word based on the context clue. Then identify which of the four types of clues is used.

  1. The girl who used to be very vociferous doesn't talk much anymore.
  2. Pedagogical institutions, including high schools, kindergartens, and colleges, require community support to function efficiently.
  3. He was so parsimonious that he refused to give his own sons the few pennies they needed to buy pencils for school. It truly hurt him to part with his money.
  4. His pertinacity, or stubbornness, is the cause of most of his trouble.
  5. Rather than be involved in clandestine meetings, they did everything quite openly.
  6. Ecclesiastics, such as priests, ministers, and pastors, should set models of behavior for their congregants.
  7. The girl was churlish – rude, sullen and absolutely ill-mannered.
  8. Because the conflagration was aided by wind, it was so destructive that every building in the area was completely burned to the ground. excerpted from Irwin L. Joffe's Opportunity for Successful Reading, 3rd ed., 153-55


1. Type of Context Clue -contrast
definition of vociferous -talkative; outspoken

2. Type of Context Clue -example
definition pedagogical -having to do with teaching

3. Type of Context Clue -explanation
definition of parsimonious - stingy; tightfisted

4. Type of Context Clue -synonym
definition of pertinacity -mulish; stubborn

5. Type of Context Clue - contrast
definition of clandestine - secret; hidden

6. Type of Context Clue - example
definition of ecclesiastics - member of the clergy

7. Type of Context Clue - synonym
definition of sullen -rude

8. Type of Context Clue -explanation
definition of conflagration -fire

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