Comprehension Tips

“I read it, but I don’t get it.”

What can you do if you read something, thinking you understand all or most of the words, yet you still don’t understand?

  1. Check the meaning of words. Words can change meaning over time, so you might think you understand everything, but you don’t.
    In Antigone, one character asks, “Is your smart in the ears or in the soul?” If you don’t know that “smart” can also mean “pain,” this question is senseless.
  2. Who/what is doing what to whom?
    In longer sentences, it’s often helpful to parse the sentence to determine the subject, verb, and object of the sentence.
  3. Remember the context.
    What came before? Often, the events just before a particular passage can help you understand the current passage. Was it an angry scene or a tender scene? Was the episode one that seemed positive and helpful or negative and harmful?
  4. Remember who is talking! (Generally applicable to plays only.)
    When a character speaks, you should call to mind all you know about the character. Is he a “good guy” or a “bad guy”? Is she talking to an enemy or an ally?
  5. Read it aloud!
    Most material sounds better and is easier to understand when read aloud.
  6. Pay attention to grammatical forms and patterns:
    1. condition/consequence (if/then statements)
      if + condition || consequence

      1. If I eat more pizza, I will pop
      2. These are also reversible:
        I will pop if I eat more pizza.
    2. Inverted sentences
      These are sentences that like Yoda speaking sound.  (Examples taken from Wikipedia.)

      1. Rarely have I eaten better food.
      2. So high is Mount Everest that climbers can take only a couple of steps per minute as they near the summit.
      3. “So many / Splayed hands, the tide shoveled in.” Lorna Cervantes, “Starfish”
  7. Remove prepositional phrases from the sentence. Read the sentence again, then repeat, gradually adding the prepositional phrases back to the sentence.
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