Determining the Meaning of Unfamiliar Words
The toddler acts very capricious for being in an unfamiliar place.

Determining the Meaning of Unfamiliar Words

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You will often come across a word, or words, that you are unfamiliar with. When this happens, what can you do to determine what the word means? The hint to determining the word’s meaning can be found in the sentence in which it appears. This is known as the context of the sentence.

For example, let’s look at the following sentence.

“She has a plethora of roses in her yard.”

The word “plethora” may be new to you. What does it mean? Well, look at the sentence to find clues.

In this sentence “She has a plethora of roses.” As the object of the sentence is the roses, you know the word “plethora” has to relate to the roses. Since you do not know the meaning, you will need to try to replace “plethora” with a word or words that you do know. In doing this you can try the following:

“She has a lot of roses in her yard.”

“She has a variety of roses in her yard.”

In this instance both “lot” and “variety” can fit in. In fact, a “variety” also means a “lot” and both mean “many.” The definition of “plethora” is many. By substituting “plethora” with words you know, you have now found the meaning of the word.

For each sentence that follows there is one word contained within it that you might not be familiar with. See if you can determine its meaning found in one of the four answers provided.
1.
He sat down in a stupor.
daze
hole
low chair
doorstep
Looking at the context of the sentence we learn that “He sat in a stupor.” Replacing the word “stupor” with the four choices, which word fits in best? Answers (b), (c) and (d) could fit in but do not really feel right. However, Answer (a), i.e., “He sat down in a daze,” seems to fit perfectly. In fact, the definition of “stupor” is to be in a daze. Answer (a) is the correct meaning of our unfamiliar word.
2.
Daddy said we would have to curtail our spending for the rest of the month.
reduce
switch
increase
stop
Looking at the context of the sentence we learn that “we would have to curtail our spending.” Replacing the word “curtail” with the four choices, which word fits in best? Answers (b), (c) and (d) do not seem to fit in with the context or tone of the sentence. However, Answer (a), i.e., “we would have to reduce our spending,” seems to fit perfectly. Answer (a) is the correct meaning of our unfamiliar word.
3.
He looks so sophisticated in his new suit!
stupid
lost
old
appealing
Looking at the context of the sentence we learn that “He looks so sophisticated.” Replacing the word “sophisticated” with the four choices, which word fits in best? Answers (a), (b) and (c) do not seem to fit at all, especially when the sentence shows an exclamation. However, Answer (d), i.e., “He looks so appealing,” seems to fit perfectly. Answer (d) is the correct meaning of our unfamiliar word.
4.
All of her decisions were done spontaneously.
thoughtfully
accurately
simply
unplanned
Looking at the context of the sentence we learn that “her decisions were done spontaneously.” Replacing the word “spontaneously” with the four choices, which word fits in best? Answers (a), (b) and (c) do not seem to fit in with the context or tone of the sentence. However, Answer (d), i.e., “her decisions were done unplanned,” seems to fit perfectly. Answer (d) is the correct meaning of our unfamiliar word.
5.
She was very inquisitive about the job description.
scared
confused
misguided
curious
Looking at the context of the sentence we learn that “She was very inquisitive.” Replacing the word “curtail” with the four choices, which word fits in best? Answers (a), (b) and (c) do not seem to fit in with the context or tone of the sentence. However, Answer (d), i.e., “She was very curious,” seems to fit perfectly. Answer (d) is the correct meaning of our unfamiliar word.
6.
She was very flippant with her grandmother.
silly
angry
disrespectful
agreeable
Looking at the context of the sentence we learn that “She was very flippant.” Replacing the word “flippant” with the four choices, which word fits in best? Answers (a), (b) and (d) do not seem to fit in with the context or tone of the sentence. However, Answer (c), i.e., “She was very disrespectful,” seems to fit perfectly. Answer (c) is the correct meaning of our unfamiliar word.
7.
The toddler acts very capricious for being in an unfamiliar place.
young
impulsive
nervous
spoiled
Looking at the context of the sentence we learn that “The toddler is very capricious.” Replacing the word “capricious” with the four choices, which word fits in best? Answers (a), (c) and (d), although each could fit, they do not seem to fit in with the context or tone of the sentence. However, Answer (b), i.e., “The toddler is very impulsive,” seems to fit perfectly. Answer (b) is the correct meaning of our unfamiliar word.
8.
The jury found him culpable on all counts.
responsible
involved
guilty
unaware
Looking at the context of the sentence we learn that “The jury found him culpable.” Replacing the word “culpable” with the four choices, which word fits in best? Answers (a) and (b) seem possible but in the context of this sentence, are not the meaning of the unfamiliar word we seek. Answer (d) is definitely not what a jury would find. However, Answer (c), i.e., “The jury found him guilty,” seems to fit perfectly. Answer (c) is the correct meaning of our unfamiliar word.
9.
The loss of the well will be catastrophic for the farmers.
welcoming
disastrous
hard
a setback
Looking at the context of the sentence we learn that “The loss of the well will be catastrophic.” Replacing the word “catastrophic” with the four choices, which word fits in best? Answers (a), (c) and (d) do not seem to fit in with the context or tone of the sentence. However, Answer (b), i.e., “The loss of the well will be disastrous,” seems to fit perfectly. Answer (b) is the correct meaning of our unfamiliar word.
10.
He was completely devoid of any emotion.
lacking
limiting
obsessed
challenged
Looking at the context of the sentence we learn that “He was completely devoid of any emotion.” Replacing the word “devoid” with the four choices, which word fits in best? Answers (b), (c) and (d) do not seem to fit in with the context or tone of the sentence. However, Answer (a), i.e., “He was completely lacking of any emotion,” seems to fit perfectly. Answer (a) is the correct meaning of our unfamiliar word.
Author:  Christine G. Broome

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