Learning Variant Meanings of a Word

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Learning variant meanings of a word

You do not increase your vocabulary by just learning the meanings of words you have never seen or heard before. You must also become aware of the additional meanings of the ordinary words which you use every day, as you would to any other things that you use not only for the purpose they were intended for, but also for other purposes. A classroom, for example, although it is intended for holding English classes could also be used as a meeting place for other activities like student club’s meeting.

To give you an example, the word serve has fifteen different meanings. The three-letter word set has twenty-six distinct meanings as verb, eleven as a noun, five as an adjective, and fifteen additional uses in idioms (that is, groups of words having a special meaning), making the surprising total of fifty-seven possible ways in which the word can be used to express an idea.

The problem, of course, is to know which definition to use in interpreting the meaning of a word. The best rule to follow is this: Examine the context in which the word appears. This procedure will very frequently give you the correct meaning.

Take, for example, the word court. Examine the sentences below containing a variety of meanings of the word, and see if you can detect the specific use of the word in each case:

  • Helen and Alice are going to the tennis court for a game this afternoon at three.

  • The strolling players set up their stage in the inner court of the castle.

  • The Queen and her court attended the New Year’s Ball.

  • The judge asked the court to consider the evidence carefully.

  • Some politicians do everything in their power to court the favor of those whose patronage they desire.

  • The reigning king usually held court on the first day of the month, to receive the petitions of his subjects.

  • Did you hear of the story of the man who was too shy to court the woman he loved?

  • Some persons are foolish enough to court danger.

  • Our home is on a very short street known as Canterbury Court.
  • Almost certainly, the case will come before a court-martial, as two army men are involved.

From the foregoing examples, you will see the necessity of scrutinizing each of the variant meanings of the a word to prevent any absurd use of it. If, in sentence 7, you received the impression that the young man in question was too shy to take the woman of his choice to the court house “to be put on trial,” you would hardly have interpreted the sentence correctly. When dealing with words with variant meanings, follow this rule: Proceed with caution.


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