General/inferential context clues require you to use your background knowledge (all the things you know just by being alive) in order to make an inference (a logical guess as to what an unfamiliar word means). The following scenario illustrates a general context clue in action:

Let’s say your teacher is in the middle of explaining a point to the class when she suddenly notices that you have been talking to your partner during the lesson. The teacher turns to you and says:

Source: 11:34 AM-Students in Math Class, Judy Baxter, Flickr

My goodness, aren’t we loquacious today! All that noise coming from all those open mouths is hurting my ears. Now, let’s see if we can have a little less attention paid to your neighbor and a little more attention paid to what’s going on in class, OK?

The word loquacious may be unfamiliar. No meaningful clues to its meaning are located in the same sentence, so you’ll need to look elsewhere in the text. Click on the words in the sentence below that may provide clues to the meaning of loquacious.

All that noise coming from all these open mouths is hurting my ears. Now, let’s see if we can have a little less attention paid to your neighbor and a little more attention paid to what’s going on in class, OK?

The words all that noise coming from all those open mouths, a little less attention paid to your neighbor, and a little more attention paid to what’s going on in class refer directly to you, the student the teacher thinks is talking too much. These are general comments—not a definition, a synonym, or an antonym—that explain what is going on. These clues do not appear in the same sentence as the unfamiliar word but in the text surrounding it. So how do they help you understand what loquacious means?

First, the teacher comments on how loquacious you are. Then in the next sentence, she gives you a big hint about the meaning of loquacious. She says, “All that noise coming from all those open mouths is hurting my ears.” You have to think about what that noise is. Next, she instructs you to change your behavior from not paying attention to paying attention. So what do you think she is asking you to do? In your experience, has a teacher ever asked a student to pay attention by not talking? Does it sound like she wants you to be less talkative or more? Click on your choice below.

1. The teacher seems to be asking the students to—

2. a. talk less in class.
Correct!
b. talk more in class.
Try again.

Based on the fact that the teacher is asking the student to talk less, what inference can you make about the meaning of the word loquacious? Would you say it could mean talkative or not talkative? Click on your choice below.

1. The likely meaning of the word loquacious is—

2. a. quiet.
Try again.
b. talkative.
Correct!

Now, let’s see if you can use general/inferential context clues to figure out the meanings of other words. Answer the following questions by choosing the meanings of the red words.

1. In middle school, Simon found himself in unfamiliar territory. He couldn’t help but miss the ease and safety of elementary school. Simon felt a wave of nostalgia sweep over him as he thought about his former school.

Nostalgia most likely means—

2. a. happiness.
Try again.
Correct! From the general context clues given, “elementary school, unfamiliar territory, miss the ease and safety of elementary school,” plus the knowledge that people sometimes miss something more familiar, you can infer that nostalgia means sadness.
c. anger.
Try again.

3. Ken made a special trip to the haberdashery today. He bought a suit and three ties.

Haberdashery most likely means—

4. a. pet store.
Try again.
b. museum of antique clothing.
Try again.
c. store that sells men’s clothing.
Correct! You know from your general experience that you buy clothes from a store. Since Ken bought a suit and ties, you can infer that a haberdashery is a shop that sells men’s clothing.