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Getting Smarter through Language

Intermediate Reading Course. Section 1: The Basics

Words with Multiple Meanings

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One Word, Multiple Concepts

What does the word “current” mean? What does “resolution” mean? If someone asked you these questions, you would probably say that “current” give the most common meaning of the word—or the first one that came to mind. Yet, words often have multiple meanings.


It is important to keep that in mind when you read. If a word does not seem to fit a particular sentence, it is possible it is begin used differently than you think.

If you think a word you are familiar with does not make sense in a sentence, use context clues to figure out what other meaning it may have. Can you understand what the word in the following examples mean in different sentences?

Meanings of “appeal”

When organizations want to raise money for a cause, they produce ads that appeal to the viewers emotions and empathy.

When people are convicted of a crime, their lawyers often appeal the case hoping that a new trial might have results.

After the storm caused citywide damage, the mayor appealed for federal assistance.

Meanings of “impertinent”

The adults in the room were irritated by the impertinent child, who kept asking personal questions.

The experts wanted to discuss the importance of the project, but the politician kept making impertinent. They finally made him realize that his comments had nothing to do with the subject at hand.

Meanings of “resolution”

This camera has very high resolution. You can see the smallest details with amazing clarity.

When couples fight, a therapist can help them find a resolution to their disagreements.

On New Year’s Day, he made a resolution to exercise and lose weight. Unfortunately, he went back to his old habits within a week.

Everyone admired the young man’s resolution. Once he decided on something, he worked on it until he achieved his goal.

Sometimes a word can have different meanings depending on its role in the sentence—for example, when the word is used as a noun, adjective, or verb.

Meanings of “refrain” (as a noun or a verb)

A familiar refrain among politicians is that the immigration system needs to be reformed. They say it year after year, but they do not seem to do anything about it.

Please refrain from asking any questions during the presentation. We will have time for questions at the end.

Meanings of “current” (as a noun or adjective)

You should not swim in this river. It has very fas, strong currents that could drag you away.

Even after you turn off some electronics, there is still some electrical current going through them.

Even after graduating from college, John still reads many textbooks and papers to stay current with changes in his field.

Inflation was high for three months but finally dropped in the current month.

Assess Your Learning

Complete Practice 1 to identify the meaning of words as they are used in sentences.

Up Next: Using Word Roots and Affixes as Context Clues

Go to the next lesson to learn about word roots and affixes.

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