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Getting Smarter through Language

Intermediate Reading Course. Section 1: The Basics

Using Antonyms and Synonyms as Context Clues

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Antonyms as Context Clues

Antonyms are words that have opposite meanings (e.g., rich and poor, or tall and short). If you run into a new word while reading, sometimes you can tell what it means because the writer uses the word in contrast with another word or with the idea in the text.

Check out the examples below.

Anete Lusina | Pexels

Antonym or contrast clues

Example 1

It was hard to believe that such an erudite man had grown up in such an uneducated, uncultured home.

”Erudite” is contrasted with “uneducated” and “uncultured.”

Example 2

Pedro and Jenny are an odd couple. Pedro is very laconic while Jenny will talk for an hour just to tell you what she had for breakfast.

Pedro’s “laconic” nature is contrasted with the idea that Jenny is very talkative, perhaps talks too much. Being laconic means Pedro is a man of few words.

Example 3

The first was very original and kept the audience interested and entertained. On the other hand, the second was simply insipid.

From the contrast between the presenters, you can tell that “insipid” is the opposite of “original and interesting.”

Synonyms as Context Clues

Alena Darmel | Pexels

Synonyms are words that have the same or similar meanings (e.g., rich and wealthy, or big and large).

Sometimes you can figure out the meaning of an unknown word because the writer includes its synonymous meaning or concept. In essence, the writer repeats the idea using a synonymous word or expression.

Synonyms or repeat context clues

Example 1

Samira always approached her academic studies with verve. She showed equal enthusiasm for photography as a hobby.

“Verve” and “enthusiasm” have similar meanings.

Example 2

People were tired of his belligerent behavior at work. Being quick to argue and fight with everyone made him difficult to work with.

”Belligerence” refers to being eager or quick to argue and fight.

Example 3

The paucity of natural resources in the country accounts for its serious economic problems. Such a lack of resources is made worse by a history of political troubles.

“Paucity” of resources in the first sentence is restated as “lack” of resources in the second.

Video Activity

Watch a video to learn about using synonyms and antonyms in the paragraph or passage to figure out the meaning of unknown words during reading. Take good notes.

Why Do Writers Do That?

Sometimes writers just try to find different ways to describe or explain something and end up providing synonyms and antonyms to avoid repetition. Other times, writers are actually aware that their readers may not know a word or expression, so they deliberately include a synonym or antonym to clarify its meaning.

As the readers, you should be aware that texts have such context clues. This way, you do not look up a word unnecessarily, which interrupts your reading and disrupts comprehension.

Important Caveats

Do not rely on context clues alone in the following situations:

    When when it is important to know the exact meaning of a word.

    When it is important to understand the meaning of a keyword exactly so that the text makes sense.

Note. A “caveat” is a detail that you must consider carefully when interpreting some information.

Up Next: Using Definitions and Examples as Context Clues

Go to the next lesson to learn about definition and example context clues.