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What does it mean?

Dictionaries have many different definitions for the same word. Let's look at how you can choose the correct meaning for your context.
© Coventry University. CC BY-NC 4.0

When you are studying at university you will hear and read lots of new words that you might not understand.

Learning the meaning of new words in English can be very difficult because often one word can have a lot of different meanings.

Students at university have to be very careful when they are learning a new word because if you choose the wrong meaning for a new word it can affect your understanding of the subject you are studying.

Furthermore, if you use the wrong meaning for a word in your assignment you will probably get a lower mark.

Let’s look at an example of a word that can have different meanings depending on the context.

Look at the following quote from Ian Dunn, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Student Experience) at Coventry University:

Independent learning is essential in order to succeed at university in the UK and to progress in your future career.
Now look at the first definition of independent in the online Macmillan Dictionary.
Is this the correct definition for independent in this sentence?


When we swap or substitute ‘independent’ with the keywords from the Macmillan dictionary definition we get:
Government-ruled learning is essential in order to succeed at university in the UK and to progress in your future career.
Do you think this is what was meant?
We need to think about the context the word was being used in if we want to find the correct definition.
The situation, place, reason and the other words a person has said or written are the context.

Your task

Look at the picture below and think about the context where the word ‘independent’ was used.
Ian Dunn wearing a suit and sat at a desk, surrounded by the following words and phrases: 'How to be a successful student', 'peers', 'community', 'self study', 'take active part', 'not passive', 'enagage', 'tutor', 'group', 'finding out more', 'dicover in depth'
Thinking about the context in which ‘independent learning’ was used, do you think that ‘government-ruled learning’ is a good definition?


Macmillan Dictionary (2018) independent (adjective) definition and synonyms [online] available from [4 May 2018]

© Coventry University. CC BY-NC 4.0
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English for Academic Study

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