Another way an author can help the reader is to use another word in the sentence or surrounding text that means the same (synonym) or the opposite (antonym). Some of the signal words authors use to help the reader are shown in the chart below.

Synonym Signal Words Antonym Signal Words
in addition to unlike
commonly called however
or in contrast
also known as instead of
referred to as on the other hand

Here is an example of a synonym context clue:

A photograph of two dromedary, or single hump, camels.

Source: Camels in a small farm, Irshadpp, Wikimedia

A dromedary, commonly called a camel, is an animal that lives in the deserts of Northern Africa.

If you didn’t know what a dromedary was when you first read this sentence, all you had to do was to keep reading to find out. The author placed a synonym directly following the unfamiliar word. The words commonly called a camel refer directly to the unfamiliar word dromedary, telling you exactly what it is.

Here is an example of an antonym context clue:

Unlike his kind and considerate brother, Derek can be quite cantankerous when he
wants to be.

Here the author begins the sentence with the phrase “Unlike his kind and considerate brother.” Then the author writes that Derek can be quite cantankerous. If you didn’t know what cantankerous means, you could look to the surrounding text for clues. There you would find, at the very beginning of the sentence, a clue to its meaning. It is in the form of an antonym. The phrase “unlike his kind and considerate brother” means the opposite of cantankerous. The word unlike let’s you know that Derek is sometimes not kind and considerate like his brother.

The following sentences have synonym or antonym context clues. Answer the questions by choosing the meanings of the words in red.

icon for an interactive exercise
  1. Unlike Jamie’s room, which was immaculate, Jeffrey’s room was very messy.
    The definition of immaculate is most likely—

  2. a. messy.
    Try again.
    b. colorful.
    Try again.
    c. tidy.
    Correct! The author uses the signal word unlike to tell you that the meaning of the unfamiliar word immaculate is opposite to the meaning of messy.

  3. The coach rewarded the team’s tenacity, or determination, with ice cream sodas all around!
    Which word from the sentence is a synonym for tenacity?

  4. a. rewarded.
    Try again.
    b. determination.
    Correct! The author uses the signal word or to tell you that the unfamiliar word tenacity has the same meaning as determination.
    c. all around.
    Try again.