Photo of Lama library by Wei-Jen Wang

Secrets of Success
> Home
> About

> Schedule
> Calendar
Download Bookmark

Workshop Series
---103 Success
-- Accuplacer Info
College Success

-- Job Readiness

-- Library Skills
-- Maida Kamber
-- Microsoft Office

-- Technology

Learning Resources
> Math - Testing

Contact Information
Disability Assistance

Version 3f

Home > Resources > Vocabulary Building

Vocabulary Building

1. Increase your vocabulary by learning to use CONTEXT CLUES, so that you can teach yourself new words every time you read.

Much of the vocabulary you’ll learn in life won’t come from reading the dictionary. Most vocabulary it is learned by reading textbooks, novels and other literature. Often when reading you’ll come across words that you’ve never seen before. And often you’ll figure out what these words mean by how they are used in the text you are reading. Most literature includes context clues to the meanings of words that some readers may not know. The context clue is most often presented in the sentence or paragraph where the word is located.

The following are six types of context clues used to help the read understand the meaning of words. To help you better understand each clue we’ve provided an example.

Description clue. Descriptions are included in the text to allow the reader to understand the meaning of a word. In the following example, descriptions of the water as being cloudy, dirty and hazy help the read understand the meaning of “murky”.

When John and Carol arrived at the lake they didn’t dare enter the murky water. The water was so cloudy, dirty and hazy that neither of them thought it would be safe to swim in.

Definition clue. In the text a definition is indirectly provided in order to help the reader understand the meaning of the word. In the following example, “ambushed” is defined as being attacked by surprise.

As the army marched through the jungle they were ambushed by a tribe of savage natives. Reporters said that the army should have know better than to walk through a dangerous part of the jungle where they could be caught off guard and attacked.

Synonym clue. A synonym clue is where the author includes a synonym to help the read understand the meaning of a word. A synonym is word that has a similar meaning as another word. In the following example, the synonym “argument” helps the reader understand the meaning of the word “altercation”.

Jill and her mom got into a serious altercation. Afterwards Jill decided that getting into a heated argument with her mom just wasn’t worth it.

Antonym clue. The author uses an antonym to help the reader understand the meaning of a word. An antonym is a worth that means the exact opposite of another word. In the following example, the antonym “slowly” is used to help the reader understand the meaning of “hastily”.

John hastily crossed the street and was hit by a car. However, John’s friend Lisa slowing crossed the street looking for cars as she went and made it safely to the other side.

Summary clue. A summary clue is where the author of the text makes several statements that enable the reader to understand the meaning of the word. In the follow example, the statements made about being bad-tempered, grouchy and cranky help the read to understand the meaning of the word “cantankerous”.

That child is the most cantankerous child I’ve ever met. He is always cranky or grouchy wherever I see him. And I’ve never met such a bad-tempered child in all my life.

Visual clues. This is where a picture, drawing, diagram, chart or other type of visual aid is used to help the read understand the meaning of the word.

Context clues are one of the best ways to figure out the meaning of a word you don’t know. So the next time you come across a word you don’t understand use context clues to help you understand the word’s meaning.

2. Increase your vocabulary by learning to use WORD PARTS so that you can figure out word meaning by looking at their prefixes, suffixes and roots.

Words can be made of combination of different parts called ROOTS (or BASES), PREFIXES, and SUFFIXES.  Roots, prefixes, and suffixes have their worn separate meaning and can be looked up individually in a dictionary.  These meanings suggest the overall meanings of the words they compose.

A PREFIX is a letter of group of letters that come at the beginning of a word.  A prefix alters the meaning of a word.  For example, adding the prefix un to the word “happy” changes the meaning of “happy” to the opposite of happy.  In addition, sometimes adding a prefix changes the part of speech.  An example of this adding the prefix dis to the adjective “able” which produces the verb “disable.”  Because of their significant impact on root words, prefixes are the most frequent word part studied.

A SUFFIX is a word part added to the end of the word. It does not generally alter a word’s meaning, but it will often change a word from one part of speech to another.  For example, when the suffix -ness is placed after the adjective “kind“ the results is the noun “kindness.”

A ROOT is a basic word to which prefixes and suffixes can be added.  It cannot be further separated into parts and is fairly constant in form and meaning.  It can be found at the beginning, middle, or end of a word.

Be aware that there are times when a group of letters appears to be a prefix, suffix, or root, but it is not.  For instance, the prefix anti- means “against” or “opposite of” as in “antisocial.”  However, anti- is not a prefix in the work “anticipate” or “antique.”

Learning word parts is very useful in building one’s vocabulary.  Roots and prefixes come from Greek and Latin words.  One Latin or Greek word may provide the clue to a dozen or more English words.  One expert said that ten Latin words and two Greek words are the basis for 2,500 English words.  The prefix pseudo which means “false” is at the beginning of 800 words.  The root anthrop which means “mankind” is used to begin 112 words.  Therefore, studying word parts is an efficient way to improve a person’s word knowledge.

3. READ WIDELY, READ A VARIETY OF THINGS so that you will be exposed to thousands of new words each month.  Keep a vocabulary journal to record the interesting words you find, or make word cards so that you can see your vocabulary growing.


          minutes per day                            words per year
          14.2                                        1,146,000
          21.1                                        1,823,000
          65.0                                        4,358,000

1. Read even as little as 15 or 20 minutes per day over a long period of time.  (a year)

2. It is important to read a significant quantity of material.
(about 20 pages each day, 100 pages each week)

3. Read a variety of material

4. Read consistently -- every day

5. You can stop reading a book before finishing it and choose another one.

6. Read books that are challenging to improve your vocabulary.

7. Keep an informal daily journal of your reading.

4. TEST YOURSELF and have fun at the same time.

You can use the "It Pays to Enrich Your Word Power" feature in Reader's Digest magazine each month.

Reader's Digest Online http://www.rd.com "Free registration and signup"

Click on | Games | in the top navigation bar

Click on Word Power under MORE FUN WORD GAMES

signup - (Free) or
login - (member already)

Go ahead and try some of the other games. Have fun and learn!

Other sites:

AgameAday: http://www.agameaday.com

Dictionary.com: Word of the day and many other useful links. http://dictionary.reference.com/

Interactive Word Games: http://www.wordplays.com

Word games from http://www.pogo.com/ (Word games)

TELFGames.com: All levels, fun vocabulary matching games.

SAT Vocabulary Tests on Vocab Test.com: offers you, the eager student ready to learn, free vocabulary tests, which are the best way to boost your verbal skills. http://www.vocabtest.com/

Vocabulary.com: a free resource used in over 20,000 schools to enhance vocabulary mastery & written/verbal skills with Latin & Greek roots. http://www.vocabulary.com/

vocabulary.co.il: The Fun Way to Build Vocabulary Skills!
Test Preparation & Vocabulary Building Made Fun.

Vocabulary University: http://www.vocabulary.com

The Longman Vocabulary Website: Word Parts

Yahoo Word Games: http://games.yahoo.com/word-games

Learn Vocabulary and Donate Rice at the same time!

ESOL Sites:

Activities for ESOL Students: Quizzes, tests, exercises and puzzles to help you learn English as a Second Language (ESL) This project of The Internet TESL Journal (iteslj.org) has thousands of contributions by many teachers.

PODCASTS (Links to iTunes)

Hot for Words | Learning words can be fun. Marina Orlova – Not your typical philologist. Etymology, philology , word origins, origin of, hot teacher.

Other Podcasts

5. Use the Library to find other resources for building you vocabulary.  Bookstores have “Word for Today” calendars, crossword puzzles, and vocabulary word card boxes.

6. USE your words from time to time in conversations.

Other Resources:

Visuwords™ online graphical dictionary — Look up words to find their meanings and associations with other words and concepts. Produce diagrams reminiscent of a neural net. Learn how words associate.

Content developed for the SOS Workshop: Improve Your Vocabulary by Mavis Hara with additional material added by SOS Coordinator.

Kapi'olani Community College - © 2002-2009. All Rights Reserved.
4303 Diamond Head Road, Honolulu, HI 96816 | 808.734.9206
Established: July 17, 2002 - Send comments to:
UH System Page KCC Library Page KCC Home Page SOS Home Page SOS Schedule SOS Learning Resources SOS Subject