Context Clues


Context Clues

What are context clues and why are they so important when reading and writing?

Answer: Context clues are hints or clues to the meaning of a word. Context clues are the words and sentences that surround a word and help explain the word’s meaning. The clue may appear within the same sentence as the word to which it refers or it may follow in the next sentence.

Because most of our vocabulary is gained through reading, it is important that you be able to recognize and take advantage of context clues.

The five basic types of context clues are:

1. Synonym or restatement clues = When an writer uses these types of clues, he or she will say the same thing twice, once with the more difficult word, and then again in a more simple way, often right in the same sentence.


● Tiffany is wise and perspicacious, and quickly discerns a situation. 

perspicacious = having a ready insight into and understanding of things

quickly discerns = to be able to see, recognize, understand or decide something

2. Antonym or contrast clues = These types of context clues give us hints to the meaning of words by telling us what they’re not. The sentence uses a word with an opposite definition to give the meaning of the unfamiliar word.


● Most over the counter medications are innocuous, but there are a few over the counter drugs that can be harmful.

innocuous means = not harmful

harmful = the antonym of/for the word innocuous

Below are a list of hint words to look for when trying to determine contrast clues in a sentence or paragraph. 

● whereas

● but

● yet

● unlike

● nevertheless

● however

3. Definition or explanation clues =  With this type of context clue, the definition of the word is literally given to the reader in the form of an explanation. With definition or explanation clues, the word’s or phrase’s meaning is explained immediately after its use.


● Because Justin is bellicose, he’s quick to fight with anyone who disagrees with him.

● The convivial clerk at the local supermarket is always so cheerful and friendly.

4. General or inference clues = These types of context clues are a little more subtle. They usually require readers to look beyond the sentence they’re reading for understanding. The reader must look for clues within, before, and after the sentence in which the word is used.


● The Slutty Vegan was Tiffany’s favorite place. The employee’s were genial and the food was good.

● Jonathan’s boerboel is quite intimidating. He’s strong and athletic. Weighing over 200lbs, this giant is quite impressive. Jonathan has always loved big dogs.

5. Punctuation or font clues =  The clues hidden here are found in capitalization, italicization, quotation marks and even parentheses.


● The “gobbledygook” coming out his mouth was appalling.

● Mark’s hyperbole – speech not intended to be taken literally, was somewhat amusing.

● Everyone at the concert really enjoyed Lil’ Kim.

6. Tone or mood clues = Sometimes the mood that the writer has set for us helps us guess at a word’s meaning.


● Demetrius had so much animus against his ex-wife, because she filed a false police report  on him, and because she had an affair with his best friend. 

animus means = hostility or ill feeling

● The beautiful woman’s skin was sweaty and swarthy from being out in the sun.

swarthy means = dark 

When a word has multiple meanings, how do you know which definition applies?

Answer: rely on context clues.




1. A deep crack in the Earth’s surface.

2. Profound difference between people, viewpoints, feelings, etc.

In the following sentences which definition applies, and what context clues did you rely on? Please provide your answer in the comment section below.

A. Lisa was overwhelmed with fear, when her five year old son, fell through the chasm on the hill.

B. There is a chasm between John’s spiritual beliefs and his friend Michael’s spiritual beliefs.




1. the sharp explosive cry of certain animals, especially a dog, fox, or seal

2. the tough exterior covering of a woody root or stem

In the following sentences which definition applies, and what context clues did you rely on? Please provide your answer in the comment section below.

A. Because the fire was almost out, he used the bark to keep the fire from extinguishing.

B. I couldn’t sleep last night, because of all the loud barking.

The following list of words all have something in common. They all share multiple meanings.


Now it’s your turn. In the comment section below, name a few additional words that have multiple meanings.

Remember writing should be fun! We hope you enjoyed this workshop.

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