Preview Quiz 1

As a preview to what will be discussed in Part One, try to answer this question:

You wave to an old friend, but she does not wave back.

What inference can you make?

  1. You really didn't wave.
  2. She did not see you.
  3. She is not a true friend.

Begin reading Part One to discover the correct answer.

Efficient reading requires the use of many comprehension skills, one of which is making an inference. In making an inference, the reader is required to reach a decision based on evidence he thinks to be true. One language authority defines inference simply as a statement about the unknown made on the basis of the known.

In our everyday lives we make many inferences. When we deal with people, watch television, or drive a car, we make inferences. The following everyday experiences will make this point clear.

Sometimes making inferences helps us solve common problems. For example, in the morning you might ask yourself, "How should I dress today?" Through the window you notice icicles hanging from the edge of the roof, cloudy skies, and your neighbor across the street putting a snow shovel into his car. You infer that it might snow and you should dress warmly.

In these situations and in many others like them, we make decisions based on what we think is true. Without the ability to make inferences, a person is unresponsive to the subtleties of life. He cannot interpret situations or see beyond them. The friend who did not wave, the man with the greasy overalls, and the reference made to sports celebrities should stimulate his mind to think beyond the stated facts.

In a similar way, a reader who is unresponsive to the subtle uses of language cannot fully understand or appreciate what he reads. He makes no distinction, for example, between the words "slim", "delicate", "skinny", and "emaciated". To him, they mean "thin" and nothing more.

Preview Quiz 2

As a preview to what will be discussed next, try to answer this question:

Which one of the following words mentioned in the next to the last line in the paragraph above would be the least complimentary?

  1. Slim
  2. Delicate
  3. Skinny

Continue reading to discover the correct answer.

The perceptive reader, on the other hand, understands that these words have different shades of meaning. "Slim" means "thin", but it is complimentary. "Delicate" suggests frailty as in "a small, delicate person". "Skinny" means very thin, but it is uncomplimentary. "Emaciated" suggests thinness due to starvation.

A good reader is sensitive to these sometimes hidden meanings of words. He reads beyond the lines, seeing the ideas implied through such words. Just as a pianist knows he cannot play Beethoven's Fifth Symphony using only his right hand, a skillful reader knows that he cannot read with complete comprehension unless his understanding goes beyond the obvious.

Making inferences challenges the mind to work on a high level. It forces the mind to bridge the gap between the obvious and the suggested, between the stated and the unstated. Such effort requires careful reading and thinking, but rewards the reader with better and more complete understanding.

In the next section, you will learn more about inferences and how this important skill can improve your reading comprehension.