Vocabulary - Determining the Meaning of Unfamiliar Words

Timmy loves candy! 

Vocabulary - 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 you are reading. When this happens, what can you do to determine what the word means? The hint is in the sentence in which the word appears.

This is known as the context of the sentence. For example, let’s look at the following sentence.

“He was so discombobulated that he had no clue as to what the answer was.”

The word “discombobulated” may be new to you. What does it mean? Well, look at the sentence to find clues. In this sentence “he had no clue as to what the answer was.” If you have no clue then you don’t know the answer. When you don’t know an answer, how do you feel? Frustrated? Confused? Okay, so now let’s replace the word “discombobulated” with a word on how you felt.

“He was so frustrated that he had no clue as to what the answer was.”

“He was so confused that he had no clue as to what the answer was.”

Now let’s see if one of those replacement words fits better. Does he not know the answer because he is frustrated or because he is confused? To be confused seems to better state why he had no clue. Choosing this word would be correct as the definition for “discombobulated” means to be confused.

1.
What does the underlined word mean?
I was so flabbergasted by what he said that I couldn’t speak.
willing
lost
interested
shocked
Looking at the context of the sentence we learn the “I couldn’t speak” because of “what he said.” What emotion or thing could happen that would make it hard or nearly impossible for you to speak? Would it be that you are “willing”? Would it be that you are “lost”? How about if you are “interested”? Would either of these three answers keep you from speaking? Now let’s look at Answer (d). If you were “shocked” would it be hard for you to speak? Yes it would be. Therefore, the correct answer is Answer (d) as to be flabbergasted means to be shocked or overwhelmed.
2.
What does the underlined word mean?
Peter can pat his head and rub his stomach simultaneously.
hard
at the same time
with rhythm
smoothly
Looking at the context of the sentence we learn that “Peter can pat his head and rub his stomach.” Peter is doing two things so how is he doing them? Is he doing them “hard”? That doesn’t seem to make sense. Is he doing them “with rhythm”? He could be, probably, but not really likely so Answer (c) doesn’t really work. Is he doing them “smoothly”? Again, he could be but it really doesn’t fit in to the context. How about doing them “at the same time”? Yes, that does seem to fit in so Answer (b) is correct. To do something simultaneously means at the same time or together.
3.
What does the underlined word mean?
He declined the invitation he received because he would not be available.
accepted
ignored
refused
put aside
Looking at the context of the sentence we know that “he would not be available.” If he would not be available when he received an invitation, what would he do? It would not make sense to “accept” so Answer (a) is not correct. Answers (b) and (d) are similar as to put aside also means to ignore and that would not be a polite action. Therefore, Answer (c) is the correct answer. He would “refuse” the invitation.
4.
What does the underlined word mean?
Even though Timmy’s pockets were full of candy, he yearned for more.
cried
desired
yelled
expected
Looking at the context of the sentence we learn the “Timmy’s pockets were full of candy.” We also can see that he had some feeling for “more.” Would it be that he “cried” for more? That he “desired” more? That he “yelled” for more? How about “expected” more? As his pockets were already full, to cry for or yell for more doesn’t really fit in. How about “expecting” more? No, not really because we don’t know if he actually expected it but he probably wanted more. What would be another word for “wanted”? That gives us Answer (b), “he desired more.” Answer (b) is the correct answer.
5.
What does the underlined word mean?
She proudly maintained her dignity throughout her life.
weight
self-respect
wealth
wisdom
Looking at the context of the sentence we know that “she proudly maintained.” Although it would be a great thing to maintain your weight, being grateful would be a more fitting word than “proud.” Being proud to maintain “wealth” also does not seem fitting. Wisdom is something that is gained and grows throughout your life. If it does not grow, then that would not be something to be proud of. To maintain would be to keep it steady – something not good when it comes to wisdom. Answer (b) is “self-respect” and is the correct meaning of “dignity”. “She proudly maintained her self-respect throughout her life.”
6.
What does the underlined word mean?
Ricky was completely fascinated with the man who had swallowed a sword!
captivated
afraid
horrified
confused
Looking at the context of the sentence we first notice that it ends with an exclamation point. This tells us that a strong emotion is being giving. Therefore, the unknown word, “fascinated,” is telling us about an emotion that Ricky was having. Now read the sentence substituting “fascinated” with “captivated,” “afraid,” “horrified” and “confused.” I believe we can quickly eliminate Answer (d) as it does not fit in with the context of this sentence. The words “afraid” or “horrified” also do not seem to fit in the context of this sentence. That leaves us with Answer (a), “Ricky was completely captivated,” meaning that the man swallowing the sword captured Ricky’s attention.
7.
What does the underlined word mean?
When the teacher saw Jason on his cell phone she confiscated it.
used
hid
took
broke
Looking at the context of the sentence we learn that “the teacher saw Jason on his cell phone.” If a teacher sees you doing something that more than likely you should not be doing, what will the teacher do? Will they “use it,” “hide it,” “break it” or “take it”? The most likely answer would be to “take it.” Answer (c) is the correct answer as “confiscated” means “took” or “seized.”
8.
What does the underlined word mean?
Caroline was appalled at the amount of blood that was shown in the movie.
excited
tickled
horrified
nervous
Looking at the context of the sentence we learn that “Caroline” felt something by seeing the amount of blood shown in the movie. Would she be “excited”? How about being “tickled”? What about feeling “horrified” or “nervous”? What word could best be used or would substitute “appalled” and mean the same thing? Caroline would not be “excited” or “tickled” so Answers (a) and (b) are not correct. So how would you feel at seeing a lot of blood? Would you feel “horrified” or “nervous”? The answer that fits best would be Answer (c). “Caroline was horrified at the amount of blood that was shown in the movie.” “Appalled” means to be horrified, shocked, alarmed, frightened or outraged.
9.
What does the underlined word mean?
Why do people waste so much time on frivolous things?
complex
unwanted
boring
silly
Looking at the context of the sentence we learn that “people waste so much time on things.” What we need to know is what kind of things. Would it be a waste of time to work on something complex or would it make sense to have to take time to work something complex out? It would take time so that time would not be a “waste.” Answer (a) is not correct. Do people tend to waste time on things that are “unwanted” or “boring”? Usually not so Answers (b) and (c) are also not correct. Now do people waste time on “silly” things? Unfortunately, yes they do. “Frivolous” means “silly,” “trivial” and “unworthy” so Answer (d) is the correct replacement word that could be used for “frivolous.”
10.
What does the underlined word mean?
My sister seems to like to dress very peculiar and is something I just don’t understand.
odd
fashionable
sloppy
loud
Looking at the context of the sentence we learn that the sister likes to dress a certain way. Does she dress in an “odd” way? How about a “fashionable” way? What about in a “sloppy” way? Finally, does she dress in a “loud” way? I think we can immediately rule out Answer (d) as it clearly does not fit in. Now would it make sense to not be able to understand being “fashionable” or being “sloppy”? You might not like or care for either one but you could understand it. So that leaves Answer (a), odd. Would it fit in that if she dressed very “odd” you couldn’t understand it? Yes, that would make sense and fit in. Answer (a) is correct and the definition of “peculiar” is “odd” or “unusual.”
Author:  Christine G. Broome

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