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Working out unfamiliar vocabulary

Working out unfamiliar vocabulary

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When reading a passage in the IELTS test, it is most likely that you will come across words with which you are unfamiliar. Be prepared for this. You may not need to understand the exact meaning of an unknown word unless there is a question directly related to it.

If you do need to know the meaning of an unfamiliar word, do not panic. There are various strategies that you can use to work out the meaning of unknown words.

TIP #1 - Using common roots, affixes to guess the meaning of unknown words

Sometimes knowledge of common roots, affixes can help you to identify the meaning of unknown words

Using prefixes

A prefix is a word or letter(s) placed at the beginning of another word (a base word) to adjust or qualify its usage or meaning. Prefixes can express the ideas of negation, direction, quantity, etc.

For example:

biological means of biology. Prefix bio- means of life and living things.

interchangeably means which can be used in place of each other/something. Prefix inter- means between, among.

maltreatment means the action of treating roughly or cruelly. Prefix mal- means bad or badly

Using suffixes

Suffixes are groups of letters attached to the ends of roots, words, and word groups. Suffixes serve a grammatical function. A suffix can indicate what part of speech (noun, verb, adjective, or adverb) to which a word belongs. Suffixes can also modify and extend meaning. Learning something about how suffixes function in the English language can help you to improve general reading comprehension. Suffixes help you to use context and etymological clues to make educated guesses about the meaning of unfamiliar words.

For example: politician__abusive ___intensify____ exhaustion_____ helpless    

Suffix -ian expresses a noun which means a person with a certain career or status or characteristics. It is added to the noun politics to form the noun politician which means a person or member of a government or law-making organisation.

Suffix -ive expresses an adjective which means having a tendency to do or cause an action. It is added to the verb abuse (to use or treat someone or something wrongly or badly) to form the adjective abusive which means using or containing unkind, cruel, or rude language.

Suffix -ify expresses a verb which means to make or become. It is added to the adjective intense (extreme and strong) to form the verb intensify which means to (cause to) become more intense.

Suffix -ion expresses a noun which means the action, state or process of. It is added to the verb exhaust {to make someone extremely tired) to form the noun exhaustion which means the state of being tired out.

Suffix -less expresses an adjective which means lacking, without. It is added to the noun help (the process of helping someone or what you do to help someone) to form the adjective helpless which means unable to look after oneself or to act without help.

Using roots

Many words are made up of a root (or base word) and an affix. Sometimes knowledge of common roots, affixes and possible similarity of words in another language can help you to identify their meaning.

The root is the main part of a word to which affixes are added. Knowing the “building blocks” of the English language - prefixes, suffixes and root words - helps you to understand the meaning of new words and their spelling convention.

Root words are very useful in a moment of doubt.

For example: sensitive_

The root sens- means one of the natural abilities that most people have to see, hear, smell, taste, and touch things, known as the five senses. The suffix -tive is added to it to form the adjective sensitive which means quick to be aware of the presence of something.

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