Reading for Thinking - Online Practice:
Using Context Clues

Copyright © 2005 Laraine Flemming.
General distribution outside the classroom and redistribution are strictly prohibited.

Directions: Click the appropriate button to identify an approximate definition for the underlined word.


The millionaire industrialist liked to think of himself as an art expert, who could match wits with artists and critics alike, but those truly knowledgeable about modern art thought differently. To them, he was just another rich dilettante, a man who perfectly illustrated the old saying: "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing."

Approximate definition:

a. amateur

b. professional

c. person of great taste

d. skilled craftsman


The new flight instructor was fond of the pilot who had hired her, but his dilatory way of speaking drove her wild. Every sentence he spoke had, at the very minimum, three pauses. By the time he finished a thought, she was drumming her fingers in irritation.

Approximate definition:

a. snappy

b. quiet

c. slow

d. sophisticated


Queen Marie Antoinette's refusal to wear traditional court attire was indicative of her rebellious spirit, for she was, from the beginning, not inclined to do what was expected of her. Unfortunately, the people of France, who mistrusted poor Marie for being Austrian rather than French, were not charmed by her untraditional ways. For them, dressing like a member of the court symbolized a readiness to assume her proper role as queen.

Approximate definition:

a. significant

b. symbolic

c. part

d. supportive


People suffering from manic depression have powerful mood swings and are given to vacillation. One day they might be upbeat and enthusiastic, ready to pursue and succeed at any number of projects. The next day they are sunk in misery, convinced that nothing but failure awaits them.

Approximate definition:

a. fear of the unknown

b. anger

c. going back and forth

d. lack of motivation


Ostensibly the new college president was a no-nonsense businessman, who wasn't about to fund any programs that didn't directly train students to compete in the job market. But since there were rumors that he also loved novels, ballet, poetry, and the theater, members of the liberal arts department were optimistic about their future funding.

Approximate definition:

a. Secretly

b. In speeches

c. Apparently

d. Quietly


In the morning, the doctor had tended her patients with what seemed to be endless energy and concentration. But in the afternoon she was overcome with a powerful feeling of lassitude, and she feared that she, too, had been struck down by the deadly virus.

Approximate definition:

a. anxiety

b. well-being

c. despair

d. fatigue


In a democratic society, everyone has a right to propagate new ideas even if those ideas are unpopular with the majority.

Approximate definition:

a. publicly criticize

b. celebrate

c. make widely known

d. develop from scratch


Even now, when more and more men are undergoing cosmetic procedures to improve their appearance, a man who wears makeup or perfume in public will probably encounter problems. But in the milieu of seventeenth-century France, men of high birth wore perfume to cover up body odor and rouge to brighten their lips and cheeks. Rouge for high-born men was simply the fashion (along with long curly wigs) and perfume was necessary because deodorant had not been invented.

Approximate definition:

a. atmosphere

b. chaos

c. triumph

d. downfall


In the mid-nineteenth century, con men traveled from town to town peddling phony medicines, which supposedly cured everything from arthritis to baldness. But for the tonics' consumers, the medical efficacy of these potions may not have been a key issue. Those all-purpose tonics contained a high percentage of alcohol that, momentarily at least, must have made consumers feel a good deal better.

Approximate definition:

a. ingredients

b. effectiveness

c. nature

d. taste


Because he liked to present himself as a connoisseur, who preferred only the best in fine food and wine, the food critic for our local paper was embarrassed to be spotted at a dingy diner, where the special of the day was a spam omelet and french fries heavily laced with cheese whip.

Approximate definition:

a. creator

b. critic

c. writer

d. expert

Last change made to this page: 2/12/2008

RfT: Online practice