How to Develop Your Ability to GUESS New English Word Meanings

By Robby

If you are new here please read this first.

Guessing English vocabulary word meanings

Here’s how to improve your spoken English when reading this article: read it out loud, then read out loud the collocations highlighted in red 10 times each to memorize them, then look away from the monitor and try and say 3 sample sentences for each of those collocations! For best results record your speech so that you can go back, spot any mistakes you might have made, and then do some more spoken English practice by correcting yourself!

Improve Spoken English

May I ask you a question – what do you do when seeing an unfamiliar English word?

Here’s what people normally do:

  • Look up the new word in a dictionary
  • Ask someone what it means
  • Forget about it and only look it up if seeing it for the second or third time

But have you ever tried to GUESS the meaning of the unfamiliar word?

Well, not that many people try to do that, but it’s worth to give it a shot!

Don’t be immediately looking up the meaning of the new word, try and think a little bit if you can find any connection between the new word and some other English word that you’re already familiar with!

Let’s imagine for second that you’re not familiar with the following word – “enclosure”.

If you just tell yourself – “I haven’t got a clue what “enclosure” is!” – it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and you’re not going to figure out what it means simply because you’re not even trying to do it.

If, on the other hand, you’re thinking along the following lines: “Hold on, “enclosure” – it might have something to do with the word “close”, right? So there’s a good chance it defines something that is closed…” – you’re opening your mind and tapping into your brain resources.

This type of thinking will develop a more thorough understanding of the English language and its vocabulary and will provide a small boost in all areas of your English development – comprehension, reading, and speaking.

And on top of that, I truly hope that this article will serve as an eye-opener and make you realize that a lot of English words are related! 😉

Compound Words – The Easiest Words to Guess

English compound words are the easiest to guess

Surely you’re familiar with the compound word concept – you take two words such as “foot” and “ball”, and you stick them together forming a new word – “football”.

There’s hundreds of such and similar words out there, and I’m pretty sure that if you were to come across a new compound word you hadn’t seen before, you’d stand a fair chance of figuring out its meaning.

I mean – if the word “undercover” is a new English word for you, you would most likely figure out its meaning – especially considering that in reality there would be some context to help you – such as “undercover agent”.

It’s not always that obvious though there a lot of compound English words that have taken on new meanings and become words in their own right, such as the word “underdog”, for example. The meaning of this word has got nothing to do with dogs, it describes someone who’s expected to lose a contest and finds themselves at disadvantage.

By and large, however, you would be much better off trying to guess the meaning of a new compound word first and then look it up – just like I told you before, it’s going to sharpen your English comprehension skills and train your “gut feeling” for new English words.

Now Let’s Step It Up a Notch

For instance, if the word “audible” is new to you, analyze it just a little bit.

Are there ANY familiar patterns in it? What about “audi”? Are there any words you know that contain “audi” (and no, I don’t mean the German car manufacturer here!)?

“Audio”, right? So, the word “audio” has something to do with sound, and it could very well be that “audible” is also related to the concept of sound, right?

Now, think about the ending “-ible”. Do you know any other words ending with “-ible” or something similar? “Possible”, “edible”, “doable”, “manageable”- what’s the common denominator in all these words?

Yes, that’s right! It’s the aspect of “ability”, basically the ending “-ible” or “-able” validates the main word, makes it possible – after all, the very word “able” describes that concept!

Now, going back to the original word “audible”, you can make an educated guess that it describes a sound that can be heard, and then you can verify that by looking the word up in a dictionary (and don’t forget to use English to English dictionary, NEVER translate new English words into your native language because that way you’ll create wrong vocabulary associations in your brain!)

Be Careful – Sometimes You’ll Find Something That’s Not There!

It’s also worth mentioning that it’s possible to find false vocabulary connections, so in reality you should always verify if your own findings reflect the reality.

Let’s take the word “together”. If you break it down, you’d think that it’s made up from three words “to”, “get” and “her”, right?

Well, it’s not really the case because that wouldn’t make any sense. I mean – what would the concept of being together have anything to do with getting “her”, right? In reality this word originates from the words “to” and “gather” in which case it makes complete sense – to gather “together”, and you’ll learn about this connection within milliseconds when doing a simple lookup on one of the dictionary websites.

Another example – take the word “angel” and break it down into “an” and “gel”. You don’t really think that there’s a connection between an “angel” and “gel”, do you? And you’re right – there’s no connection at all! In reality the word “gel” derives from “gelatin”, and it’s only coincidental that the two words “gel” and “angel” contain the same syllable.

New Words ALWAYS Come in Context Which Makes the Guesswork Much Easier!

Context makes guessing easier
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that CONTEXT is the king.

Everything is contextual – the way we speak (we speak using word groups, the so-called collocations), the way we perceive the English language (when we read or listen to something, we don’t really perceive individual words, it’s all about phrases and sentences) and also the way we learn new vocabulary.

We rarely come across new English vocabulary words taken out of context. They’re usually part of a phrase or a sentence, and what’s great about it is that it makes it a whole lot easier for you to guess what it means!

Let’s take the word “enclosure” again. You have to agree that chances of you just seeing that word on its own are really slim. Most likely you’ll come across a phrase such as “animal enclosure” or “dog enclosure” in which case it becomes so much easier to guess its meaning.

There’s at least 2 clues in this instance – one is the root word “close” and the second one is the word “animal” or “dog”. You really don’t have to be a genius to put two and two together and infer the word’s meaning from the information that’s available to you.

And let’s not forget that typically you’d be also having some visual clue as well – so in real life what you’ll be having is at least 3 clues – the root word “close”, some other context such as “animal”, and the actual enclosure you’ll be looking at in a zoo, for instance.

So you really have to try hard NOT TO guess what that word means, right? 😉

Let’s take another example.

The word “to evolve”.

Do you know what it means? Well, chances are that you don’t!

But remember – in reality you’ll always get some clues, so here’s a sentence for you: “Darwin is the first known scientist who proposed a theory that plants and animals evolve and change over hundreds and thousands of years.”

Now, isn’t it pretty clear now?

The context alone gives you plenty of clues that the word evolve has got something to do with evolution, and when you look at the two words – “evolve” and “evolution” – it becomes apparent that the verb “to evolve” simply means to undergo evolution, to develop.

I hope that reading this article is going to plant the seed into your head, and that from here on out you’ll be trying to bring the guesswork into the equation of building your English vocabulary!



P.S. Would you like to find out why I’m highlighting some of the text in red? Read this article and you’ll learn why it’s so important to learn idiomatic expressions and how it will help you to improve your spoken English!

P.S.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!

English Harmony System

P.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out the English Harmony System HERE!

English Harmony System