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The words which have a single or few meanings are easily understood and learned. But how can I learn a word which has several meanings, maybe more than ten? For example, pitch, present, stick, etc.

Sometimes I have already learned one meaning of a word, but when this word comes in the context of an article, I don't know what it means there. How can I learn this kind of words? The many meanings of this kind of words confuse me.

  • You could try looking them up in a dictionary. That should tell you what all of the different meanings are. – Matt Mar 22 '13 at 0:37
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    For what it's worth, not all words with single definitions are "easily" understood. For example, heterozygous only has one meaning, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's easy to learn or understand. Not only that, a word like pin may have several meanings, but most of them are relatively simply, and not very hard to pin down. – J.R. Mar 22 '13 at 1:46
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Learn each meaning in context as you come across it. Learning ten meanings for one word is much the same as learning ten words with one meaning each--the only difference is that all ten words are spelled the same. There's no reason you need to memorize every sense of a word the first time you come across it.

For words with a great deal of meanings, one strategy is to break them down into groups. It's easier to remember three groups of three meanings than nine unrelated meanings, especially if the meanings in each group have something in common.

Finally, try to look at the word and see how the senses developed. Are they all conceptually related? Or perhaps most of them? If you can find a way to relate them to one another, then it'll start to make sense. In other words, you'll be understanding rather than memorizing.

  • Always consider the context. This is a strategy used by native speakers when they come across unfamiliar words. If the context is not clear, try a dictionary. If it is still not clear, ask a native speaker. But don't just ask "what's this mean", but rather see if they can help you understand why it means it. – TecBrat Jun 18 '13 at 2:12
  • It may be optimistic to say “then it'll start to make sense.” It might. But then, there are cases in English where there’s no (known) relation between different uses of a word, so there’s no sense to be had (granted, ten totally-unrelated meanings is unlikely). – KRyan Feb 17 '14 at 4:10

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