What's the point? If you're having trouble answering this question, you might need to learn more about implied main ideas. This lesson gives a definition and examples, along with explanations on how to identify them!
Implied Main Idea Defined
Have you ever looked everywhere for something, only to find it sitting right in front of you the whole time? Searching endlessly for something you know is there can be extremely frustrating. This is also true in a situation where you're trying to figure out what someone is talking about. If we have to really try to figure out what people are talking about, it probably means they're using an implied main idea, or the primary point of a sentence or passage that is not clearly stated, but instead deduced from surrounding details.
Of course, the main idea of a sentence or passage is its primary point or argument. And in everyday conversation, we tend to state our main ideas clearly, not wanting anyone to be distracted or confused. For instance, this lesson's primary point is to talk about implied main ideas, and everywhere you look here, you should be able to find clear evidence of that fact. We might digress here and there to discuss particular details, but it's always evident that we're talking about implied main ideas. But how do we find implied main ideas when they're not the center of attention?
Finding an Implied Main Idea
Why would we ever need to imply a main idea when it's so easy to say it outright? People use implied main ideas for all sorts of reasons - from disguising their real intentions, to keeping us on our toes. In fact, you've probably even used an implied main idea or two in the form of what we might call 'dropping hints.' Take for example this seemingly rambling account from a theoretical 13-year-old.
Did you know snowboarding started from surfing? They even have snowboarding in the Olympics now! I wonder how long it takes to build a snowboard. I saw one the other day, though, down at the mall…
Although it might look like these sentences are only thinly connected, their implied main idea actually keeps them all tightly linked. And here's how we can tell…
Read the passage entirely first. All the details might not make sense immediately, but you should start to see patterns. For instance, the young teenager appears to be jumping from one idea to the next; but if we look closely, we can see that snowboards feature prominently throughout the passage.
Examine individual details to see how they relate to the common thread. The first sentence relates snowboarding to surfing (maybe the parents are surfers?); the second hypes its place in the Olympic Games; while the third and last imply the difficulties of building a board and the efficiency of finding one at the mall.
Put the details together to find out what the main idea is. We can look at the details together to see that the implied main idea of this teenager's hint-dropping is that he or she wants a snowboard: each detail attempts to add some sort of value to the sport so that the parents will finally be convinced to buy the snowboard at the mall. Re-reading the passage or summarizing it can also be helpful at this stage in the process.
Now that we've seen how to find the implied main idea hidden in plain sight, let's take a look at a couple more examples.
Example 1: Standardized tests
In the classroom, using passages containing implied main ideas is a great way to test and exercise your reading comprehension and analysis skills. And many standardized tests, such as the SAT and the ACT, typically include such passages in their reading sections for just that reason. A passage like the one below could show up on the next SAT, so give it a look to see if you can find the implied main idea:
Your dog tends to do what you say when you give him treats, and this is the sort of relationship humans and dogs have had for almost as long as we have known each other. In some parts of the world, people have used food to get canines to herd their sheep or to guard their property. Some breeds have even been taught to pull sleds, while others, like Chihuahuas - who were thought to have been used by Native Americans as a source of companionship - were trained to provide us with certain creature comforts. Many of us still like rewarding our dogs with tasty treats, just for being our favorite furry friends.
While it might look like this paragraph is all over the place - giving your dog treats, then guard dogs, then Chihuahuas - we can see that there's a common thread here: training dogs. Each of the individual details that might seem isolated from the next, is actually connected by how we have used food in our relationship with dogs to earn their loyalty. When we put all these details together then, we find that the main idea implied all this time is, by using food, humans have been able to train canines to perform a wide range of services for us.
Example 2: Political Cartoons
Political cartoons, which tend to poke fun at politics and politicians through humorous and often symbolic depictions, are great places to look for implied main ideas. With these cartoons, their frequently thick symbolism prevents their main ideas from being stated clearly, so we have to examine all their details when we 'read' them.
This cartoon by James Gillray was published on February 26, 1805, during an era of European imperialism. It shows British Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger and French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte sitting at a table sharing a Christmas pudding. The rather large dessert depicts a map of the world, with Pitt carving out a much larger slice of the pudding than Napoleon. This demonstrates the greed of both European leaders, but particularly Pitt, who launched a number of offensives to try and gain more territory for England. Ultimately, the greed for food is meant to represent greed for more land. The implied main idea is that European leaders thought it was their right to assert influence over other countries in order to satisfy their hunger for power.
The main idea of a sentence or passage is its primary point or argument. An implied main idea is the primary point of a sentence or passage that is not clearly stated, but instead deduced from surrounding details. Although we tend to state our ideas clearly in everyday conversation, we can find implied main ideas just about anywhere - from standardized tests, to political cartoons, to 'dropping hints' on our parents. Wherever we find them, we can identify an implied main idea in a passage by reading it entirely, examining the individual details for a common thread, and then putting those details together to form the main point.
Your goal, at the end of the lesson, should be to:
- Recall the definition of an implied main idea
- Describe ways to find the implied main idea