A dictionary is an important book for teachers and students alike. Whether you’re looking to improve your command of the English language or you just want to look up the meaning of some rare or technical terms, a good dictionary is a must-have accompaniment, even for native speakers. Unlike shopping for a cookbook
, the best approach when looking for the best dictionary is to go online or visit a physical bookshop and compare the different models on offer in terms of the number of words defined, how detailed the explanations are, and how practical the word use examples are.
Aside from just flicking through the copies, there are a couple of other key parameters to look for. First, at the mention of the word dictionary, many people think of bilingual dictionaries like French-English or German-English dictionaries. However, most learners’ dictionaries are monolingual (English-English), meaning that English words aren’t translated but rather defined and explained, and examples of sentence use are given. Some specialized monolingual dictionaries can become paramount when studying technical materials like nursing books
The best monolingual dictionaries are by far more advanced than any bilingual dictionary you can find on the market. Take note of the technological advancements and check if the dictionary contains current buzzwords like tweet, social networking and so on.
Additionally, check if the dictionary is American, British, Canadian, Australian or some other variant. For teachers working overseas, it could be helpful to have a dictionary that includes both American and British English words and spellings. If students are going to use the dictionary on their own, consider models with phrasal verbs, idioms, and so on. A good dictionary should offer comprehensive word use analysis, as opposed to pictorial overviews like in the world atlas
Since most users need dictionaries they can carry along to the office, classroom, or on a trip, portability is critical. But this may mean sacrificing comprehension for a small size. Perhaps going with a digital dictionary that you can carry on your smartphone will make better sense.
With that said, it’s time to delve deeper into the features to look for when shopping for a dictionary, and then you can jump straight to our individual reviews.
The most comprehensive dictionaries are not so expensively priced. With a budget of between about $12 and $35, you can find a good-quality dictionary, whether in print copy or an electronic app. The advantage with digital dictionaries is that you can carry them everywhere you go, through the convenience of your mobile device (laptop, tablet, or smartphone). Online dictionaries may be available for a yearly subscription fee or for free, and you can receive regular updates at no extra fee.
However, if you choose a print model for practicality reasons, you’ll still find a good-quality dictionary that will serve you for several years to come. We don’t recommend the very cheap dictionaries out there, since the integrity of their content may be questionable and the print models may be done on low-quality paper that may not stand the test of time or regular use.
Now, let’s look at the important features to look for in a dictionary:
- Size – The smallest dictionaries that can fit into your pocket are great in terms of portability, but will only be useful for a quick check of the definitions and spellings of the most commonly used words. They are mini-books that easily fit in your pocket, purse or drawer, but some models will pack up to 40,000 entries and over 50,000 definitions. However, for serious work, you’ll need something bigger and more comprehensive.
- Layout – You need a dictionary that lays out definitions, phonetic transcriptions, and sentence examples in a clean and readable way. Avoid models that overwhelm users with interface elements.
- Example Sentences – Example sentences are quite critical components of a dictionary. These sentences should give a clear understanding of the definition, situations where native speakers apply the word, and what grammatical patterns appear with the word.
- Number of Definitions – Check the total number of definitions contained in the dictionary and whether it describes the common situations and contexts in which the words are used.
- Languages – Ask yourself whether you’re looking for an English-English dictionary or a dictionary that allows you to look up a word in your language and get translations to another language.
- Scope – You can find general dictionaries or specialized dictionaries that include definitions and interpretation of technical terms in a particular field or specialty.
- Additional Content – Some dictionaries feature extras like synonyms, pronunciation exercises, usage information, as well as relevant pictures.
Construction and Design
When you think about the serious dictionaries of the 21st century, you should picture a digital dictionary. In this age of ubiquitous laptops, tablets, smartphones, and netbooks, hardcover book dictionaries may quickly be fading away. These quaint relics used to go by the name “the Senior English Instructor,” and were used mainly by senior ladies to look up the meanings of English words. Just from their sheer weight (of the dictionary, not the old ladies) and the lengthy amount of time it takes to look up a word, there’s absolutely no reason for a serious learner of the English language to use one. Of course, some people still prefer the old, rugged method for use at home or in the office, but it surely comes with a lot of limitations.
If you prefer the old-school dictionaries, you can choose between hardcover and paperback. Hardcover dictionaries may cost a little bit more than paperback dictionaries, but will definitely last longer. Again, you should consider whether you need a dictionary that will stay open by itself, or you don’t mind holding the pages open as you read.
In digital formats, you can find several online dictionaries, some of which are free. Since publishers make money through books and CDs, their online dictionaries can be limited to some extent. Some models may lack recorded pronunciations, lack phonetic transcriptions, or offer fewer sentence examples.
Additionally, depending on your internet connection speed, an online dictionary can be slower, compared to a digital dictionary installed on your computer or smartphone. It’s not just about the page loading time, but also the interface that requires more looking around and clicking to get the meaning of a word. This can sometimes slow you down or even hurt your motivation.
So, online dictionaries can be great for searching for some extra information about a word, say, when you want to see more examples of word use or double-check a pronunciation. However, for serious everyday use, nothing beats a good software dictionary. So, it’s a good idea to go for digital dictionaries available on CDs or DVDs.
Performance and Ease of Use
A good dictionary should be user-friendly. If it’s a digital model, the software should enable you to perform common tasks like looking up words, playing a recording, and much more, without unnecessary clicking. You should be able to access all the important features, including copy and paste, and other input operations (drag and drop, standard keys, scrolling with the mouse wheel, etc.).
In terms of responsiveness, the software should load and scroll without annoying delays. The search engine should return relevant search results for words with many spellings or word combinations. For instance, if you’re searching for the word “hard-pressed” but mistakenly typed “hard pressed,” the phrase you’re looking for should return in the search results.
It’s important to note that there are dictionaries for learners and dictionaries for native speakers. Americans, Britons, etc. use dictionaries for native speakers to look up the meanings and uses of rare words like tintinnabulation, inextricable, and those you probably wouldn’t know how to pronounce. On the other hand, dictionaries for learners are used by individuals and students learning English as a second language.
One sure way of improving your command of the English language is by consistently referring to an authoritative resource. The dictionaries we’ve featured contain thousands of words alongside a collection of useful background materials. They are available in various editions suitable for a wide range of users, including youngsters, adults, students, and teachers. With that information in hand, it’s time to dive straight to our top picks and grab a copy.
Born November 17, 1958, Bryan A. Garner is an American lexicographer, teacher, and lawyer who has written over two dozen books on English style, usage, and advocacy. Bryan began writing his first book during the first week of his first year in law school. This book became known as Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage. Many books have since followed, including books on advocacy, legislation, jurisprudence, and even golf.
Bryan A. Garner’s 5th Pocket Edition of the Black’s Law Dictionary has become a top-selling law dictionary for a good reason. The dictionary draws over 19,000 definitions from the original Black’s Law Dictionary 10th edition, making it an essential reference tool in the legal profession, but in a more compact format. Whether you are a journalist, law student, lawyer, or just interested in knowing the accurate meaning of legal terms, this dictionary has clear and concise definitions of the terms that matter most.
The best thing about the pocket edition is that it’s lightweight and compact enough to fit in your briefcase; you can leave the larger dictionary at home or in the office and carry this one for quick reference. You also get to choose between the hardcover and paperback formats.
With over 150 years of experience, in print and now online, Merriam-Webster has established its name as America's leading and most-trusted service provider in print and now online language information. Their website offers guidance to over 40 million visitors every single month. Their publications in print materials include the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary – one of the best-selling books in the history of America – and the newly published English dictionaries.
The Newly Revised & Updated Eleventh Edition of America's Best-Selling Merriam-Webster Dictionary features definitions for the current, active vocabulary of American English. It’s still being updated on an ongoing basis and features over 225,000 definitions and more than 42,000 examples of usage. Available in Kindle, hardcover, and paperback formats, the dictionary has incorporated newly added words and definitions spanning a variety of fields like entertainment, technology, science, health, and society.
This edition features special sections, including: A Handbook of Style, Geographical Names, Biographical Names, and Foreign Words and Phrases.
The electronic version of Merriam-Webster is a resourceful site with a complete dictionary and a fairly informative encyclopedia. The site offers a one-year online subscription to users from across the globe. The featured definitions are purely educational and straightforward. An additional "English-Spanish" section is useful for translating certain words and understanding verb conjugation. The "Medical" section helps to translate medical jargon into a layman's terms. Users also get to enjoy the age-appropriate games that are word-focused, which helps to improve vocabulary and memory. Sponsored and banner ads appear on every page of the site, which lure users off the site, occasionally redirecting them to iffy materials. However, these ads are necessary to keep your favorite reference website freely accessible.
W. E. Vine started from a humble beginning in the late 1970s and is today a leading resource in Christian books. They continue to distribute educational Christian books with an enormous selection at great value. With their strong customer service and support, the company continues to offer useful content, both online and in print copies.
With W. E. Vine’s Complete Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, you can study the deeper meanings of Bible words in their original languages without spending several years learning Hebrew or Greek. Available in both Kindle and hardcover formats, this classic reference tool helps thousands to get a comprehensive understanding of the biblical text. With over 6,000 explanations of key biblical words and a whole new, detailed topical index, this book enables you to thoroughly study biblical topics like never before.
The book comes as a convenient single volume that combines the Unger and White Expository Dictionary, covering the Old Testament, and Vine's Expository Dictionary, which covers the New Testament words. You can seamlessly access the alphabetized English translations of Hebrew and Greek words as illustrated by the scripture passages, cross-references, comments, historical notes, precise etymologies, and technical information.
Each original language is properly indexed, and the extra topical index allows you to access all the entries in the dictionary that refer to specific ideologies and teachings of the New Testament. This is a great resource for pastors, students, and everyone who enjoys studying biblical words. It serves as a concordance, dictionary, and a commentary as well.
Very few, if any, teachers can explain the meaning of a word like a great dictionary. Dictionaries can give clear definitions, comprehensive information and pronunciation, and above all, carefully chosen usage examples of the words. But finding the best dictionary that suits your needs may not be a walk in the park. Hopefully, you managed to find an ideal dictionary from our list. If you didn’t, there are still numerous options from these brands that you can check out for a perfect match.