Guessing Meaning From Context

When reading or listening to language, we often come across words or phrases that we don’t understand. However, rather than immediately reaching for a dictionary or asking someone for clarification, we can often use context to guess the meaning of these unfamiliar words or phrases.

Context refers to the words, phrases, and sentences that come before and after a word or phrase. By looking at the context, we can often infer the meaning of the word or phrase in question.

For example, if we come across the word “canine” in the sentence “The canine barked at the mailman,” we can use the context to infer that “canine” probably refers to a dog.

Let’s learn more about how the text itself can help us figure out what words we don’t know yet mean

Types of Context Clues

Context clues are words or phrases in the sentence or paragraph that help the reader to figure out the meaning of the unknown word.


A synonym is a word or phrase that means the same or is very similar to another word.

  • I was hunting in the forest and I shot two deer

Examples and Definitions

Examples can inform the reader about unknown words. They can illustrate the meaning of the word that they refer to.

  • Slammer is an example of a computer virus

Antonyms and Contrast

Antonyms are words that mean the opposite of other words. Antonyms can refer to the opposed idea of an unknown word in a sentence or paragraph.

  • The Fire kept me dry and warm because I was soaked

Figurative Language

Figurative language is the language that is not meant to be taken literally and often uses metaphors or similes. For example,

  • She had a heart of stone” which means “she was cold and unfeeling.

Prefixes and Suffixes

Another way to use context to guess the meaning is to look for clues such as prefixes and suffixes.

Prefixes are added to the beginning of words and can give clues about the word’s meaning, such as “un-” meaning “not” or “dis-” meaning “the opposite of.”

Suffixes are added to the end of words and can give clues about the word’s part of speech, such as “-ed” indicating past tense or “-ly” indicating an adverb.


Idioms are phrases that cannot be understood literally, such as “kick the bucket” meaning to die. Colloquial expressions are phrases that are specific to a certain region or group of people and can be difficult to understand. For example,

  • I’m all ears” means “I am listening attentively.

Video: Guessing Meaning from Context

Learn more about guessing from context by watching this video


In conclusion, by using context, we can often infer the meaning of unfamiliar words or phrases.

By looking at the words and phrases that come before and after the word or phrase, as well as looking for clues such as prefixes and suffixes, idioms, colloquial expressions, and figurative language, we can often guess the meaning without having to look it up.

More Teaching Reading Information

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  1. What’s Free voluntary Reading?
  2. 13 Examples of Post-Reading Activities
  3. 15 Examples of Pre-Reading Activities
  4. How to Assess Reading Skills
  5. How to Find the Main Idea in 4 steps
  6. 3 Stages for Teaching Reading
  7. 11 Examples of While-Reading Activities
Manuel Campos, English Professor

Manuel Campos

I am Jose Manuel, English professor and creator of, a blog whose mission is to share lessons for those who want to learn and improve their English