How to deal with unknown words by context clues
Abstract: Do you use the dictionary at once or just ignore the word? As there may be many on a page, you will find that stopping in mid-sentence to pull out a dictionary and look up a word in seldom a practical or necessary solution. Clever students will realize that they can often figure out the meaning of an unknown word by considering the context. A close look at the surrounding words and sentences often, though not always, eliminates the need to use a dictionary. Here I would like to introduce some techniques to identify the meaning of the unknown words. Notice the underlined word in the following sentence.
My husband is an Irish-Indian from the Bronx, while l am an American-born Korean from New Jersey. Most of our friends have been expecting an exotic wedding ceremony.
What has the author said about her family background and that of her husband?
Do their friends expect the wedding ceremony to be a common American one?
Exotic means ________.
Religious b. common c. unusual
很可能，单词 “exotic”对学生们来说是一个非常陌生的词，而不通过查字典判断它的意思并没有想象中那么难.因为 这句话本身就包括了明显的解释exotic的线索. 首先作者陈述到：”both families are fairly new immigrants to America and are probably conscious of their own culture.“其次, 正如人们理所当然认为的那样，婚礼是传统的象征，而这对新人很有可能就想要一个不那么美式的婚礼。You can even imagine a celebration with many foreign and uncommon things.
A 14-month-old girl named Marissa Ayala lay anesthetized upon an operating table in the City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte, Calif.
What does the sentence talk about?
What words or phrases helped you to answer Question 1?
A.To make someone lose physical sensation
B.To make someone happy
C.To cause pain
Don’t be scared away by “anesthetized”. Go on reading and you will find that the girl is not playing a game in her own bed. She is in hospital and is having an operation. You know that before an operation, doctors give injections so as to alleviate the patient’s pain. So, it is not difficult to guess that girl is made unable to feel.
2. Synonym Context Clues 同义语境线索
(1) 以to be，mean，refer to等结构。 (2) 以"be defined as "，"be known as "，"be called "，等结构 (3) 以定语从句下定义 (4) 以标点符号为线索猜测词义。
Sherry’s malevolence, or ill will, toward her brother became obvious when she tried to push him down the stairs.
1. The rat, like man, has become practically omnivorous—it eats anything that lets it.
What does sentence 1 talk about?
What does sentence 2 talk about?
What does “malevolence” mean in sentence 1?
What does “omnivorous” mean in sentence 2?
It is not difficult to figure out that Sentence 1 talks about Sherry’s attitude toward her brother and the subject matter in Sentence 2 is what a rat eats. If you are not able to answer Question 3 and 4, you must have overlooked important contextual clues. The two words are actually defined right in the sentences “Malevolence” just means ill will and “omnivorous” means eating anything.
How to Recognize Synonym Clues
When using difficult words, authors often try to help you by giving synonyms. They also use words or phrases with similar meanings to avoid repetition.
Synonyms are easy to recognize because they are often set apart by a comma, a dash, or parentheses. The author may also use such words and phrases as or, that is to say, that means, in other words, etc. to signal a synonym context clue.
Usually, a synonym context clue appears as the same part of speech of the new word, but sometimes it is a different part of speech. For example, an adjective may have a noun as its synonym.
3.Example Context Clues以举例为线索猜测词义
为了阐明某一种重要观念或者讲清某一抽象概念，作者往往采取举例的方式对这一观点或概念进行具体的说明和解释，从而使读者理解得更具体些。那么文中的例子自然也就成了读者理解文章生词的线索。表示列举关系的信号词有: like，for example，for instance，such as， especially， include， consist of， specially。所以，一定不要放过句子中的同义词以及定义，例如：
Louis must be very affluent. He was expensive clothes and jewelry, drivers a Rolls-Royce convertible, and owns a 1,750,000 house in Beverly Hills.
Notice all the examples that help to explain the word “affluent”: expensive clothes, jewelry, a top-class car and a house in Beverly Hills. All of these are items that require money or wealth. So, it doesn’t take much time to figure out that “affluent” means wealthy or well-to-do.
4. Antonym Context Clues 反义词信号判断准则
作者运用对比的手法来表现事物之间的差异。在进行对比的过程中，作者必然会用一些互为对应、互为反义的词语，使不同事物的特点更为突出。通过上下文的逻辑关系，从对两种事物或现象进行对比的描述中，读者可以根据其中一个熟悉的词推断出另一个生词的词义来。作者通常会用一些信号词来表明另一个词语与前面的词语互为反义。例如But on the other hand although while yet even though in contrast instead however in spite of nevertheless rather
David usually is loquacious, but tonight he is rather silent.
What does “loquacious” mean?
The word “but” signals the antonym “silent.” You can conclude that “silent” is the opposite of “loquacious.” If a person is not silent, he is talking, or talking a lot. So, loquacious just means talkative.
How to Recognize Antonym Clues
Recognizing words and phrases that signal an antonym clue can help you to understand new words. Authors frequently use signals to tell you that you probably already know but may have never thought about using in this way.
 Harmer,J（2008）《怎样教英语》北京外语教学与研究出版社 34-52页
2王力（2008）《Using context clues for word meanings运用上下文的线索猜测生词
》。《语言文字应用》2008 年8月第3期 107-116页
4 Wills, D.Wills, J.Changllge and Change in Language Teaching[M].上海：上海外语教育出版社，2002.