Working out Vocabulary in Context

Warmup Activity

The following text about the importance of vocabulary in the IELTS reading test is incomplete. Complete it with words or phrases from the box.

Click or touch a word above
The Importance of Vocabulary in the IELTS Reading Test
Reading skills such as 1) are very important, however, if you don’t know the vocabulary in the questions or the text, you will not be able to answer the questions correctly. The questions often paraphrase the information in the text. That means they use 2) to give the same ideas. Therefore, it is important for you to have a wide vocabulary so that you can see synonyms from the questions in the texts and so easily find the answers that you need.
Before the Test
You need to improve your vocabulary while you are preparing for the test. The best way to do this is to read widely. Read serious magazines such as 3) and English language newspapers such as 4) and news websites such as the 5) . Make sure to learn new words you encounter in the articles. You should focus on learning a wide range of vocabulary about different topics, but particularly 6) , as you are likely to see these in IELTS texts. Keep new words that you find in a vocabulary book and practice them daily in order to memorise them. With each new word include an example sentence and synonyms (words that have the same meaning).
During the Test
When you are doing the test, you do not need to understand every word. Read the questions before you read the text so that you know what 7) you need to find. Ignore unknown words when possible. If you think a word is important and you need it to answer a question, try and work out the meaning of the word from 8) in and around the unknown word in the text.

Vocabulary In Context

When you see a word that you are unfamiliar with, you can find out a lot about the word from the context (words and ideas around it in the text).

  1. First, look at the position of the word in the sentence, is the word likely to be an adjective, verb, adverb or noun?
  2. Second, are there any clues in the spelling of the word as to its part of speech (adjective, verb, adverb or noun)? For example, words ending ‘al’ are often adjectives whereas words ending ‘tion’ are nouns.
  3. Third, does the information around the word give any clues? For example, is the word likely to be positive or negative in meaning. If the previous sentence was about advantages, will the information in this sentence be about disadvantages?
  4. Fourth, is the word explained either before or after it is used. It is common for writers to explain the meaning of specialist academic vocabulary. For instance, if the word is a noun, it may be followed by a relative clause (that…/which…) which explains the meaning, alternatively an example may be given which explains the meaning of the word.

Exercise 1

Below is a short text about octopus. Look at the position in the sentence of the words and phrases in bold. Is each word or phrase an adjective, verb, adverb or noun? How do you know?

Grammar Basics


If you want to improve quickly, it’s important to know the language we use to describe the structure of English.

At the most basic level we have

  • nouns – naming words | house, person, idea, life
  • verbs – action words | do, live, play, think
  • adjectives – describing words | happy, beautiful, interesting
  • prepositions – location words | in, on, at, to, from
  • adverbs – modifying words | happily, beautifully, interestingly

If you do not understand these terms, make sure that you learn them. A good resource is Englisch-Hilfen.

By Matt Wilson/Jay Clark, NOAA NMFS AFSC. Octopus Paralava NOAA Photo Library: fish3566, Public Domain, Link

Octopus and other cephalopods are masters of disguise. When they hunt, or when the want to hide, they can disappear from view almost instantly. The ability to blend in to their surroundings seems to be almost miraculous but it is due to skin cells called chromatophores which have evolved to create different colours and the appearance of different textures.

1. cephalopods:
2. blend in:
3. miraculous:
4. chromatophores:



Answer Explanations

  1. Octopus (noun) are an example of cephalopods and so cephalopods must be a noun. The final ‘s’ at the end of cephalopods tells us that it is a plural countable noun.
  2. Blend in is clearly a verb phrase as it follows the phrase ‘the ability to’. This phrase is generally always followed by a verb.
  3. A word that follows the verb ‘be’ is likely to be a noun or an adjective. We know miracle is the noun form so miraculous must be the adjective form of the word. You may also know that words which end ‘ulous’ are generally adjectives.
  4. What follows the verb ‘called’ must be a name for something, so this means chromatophores is a noun.

 

Exercise 2

You have analysed the position of the vocabulary in bold in each sentence. You have thought about the information both before and after each word or phrase in bold. Now, use what you know from the text to decide on a definition of each word or phrase in bold.

Octopus and other cephalopods are masters of disguise. When they hunt, or when the want to hide, they can disappear from view almost instantly. The ability to blend in to their surroundings seems to be almost miraculous but it is due to skin cells called chromatophores which have evolved to create different colours and the appearance of different textures.

1. cephalopods
a) Animals in the same family as octopus
b) Animals which are very different to octopus
c) Animals which eat octopus
d) Animals which have some similarity to octopus but are in a different family
2. blend in
a) The ability to hunt and hide
b) The ability to disappear
c) The ability to change colour
d) The ability to confuse predators
3. miraculous
a) Something that is very ordinary
b) Something that is impossible
c) Something that is so amazing it is almost unbelievable
d) Something that is so dangerous you should stay away from it
4. chromatophores
a) Skin cells that are very hard
b) Skin cells that can change colour
c) Skin cells that are colourful
d) Skin cells that are evolving



A good technique when you are preparing for the IELTS test is to try to work out the meaning of new words or phrases when you see them in a text, without using a dictionary. After you have thought about part of speech and the meaning of the word or phrase, compare your ideas with a dictionary to see if you were correct or not.

When you are ready, you can move on to the end of module test. This will review what we have learned so far.