English Dictionaries

There are lots of different kinds of dictionaries to choose from.

The two most common dicationaries are bilingual and monolingual, but there are more and before you buy one or two it's useful to know how they differ:-

Bilingual Dictionaries

A bilingual dictionary can be used to translate words or phrases from one language to another. They usually consist of two sections, each listing words and phrases of one language alphabetically along with their translation. In addition to the translation, a bilingual dictionary usually indicates the part of speech, and grammar clues to help a non-native speaker use the word.

Monolingual Dictionaries

A monolingual dictionary defines words and phrases in one language instead of translating them. They are usually listed alphabetically, with definitions, etymologies, pronunciation, and other information. Some monolingual dictionaries are written specifically for the language learner.

Specialized dictionaries

Some dictionaries concentrate on specific subject fields, such as medicine, law, accounting etc.

Pocket Dictionaries

A pocket dictionary is a dictionary that is small enough to carry in your pocket, but because of the size, the number of words and length of description are restricted.

Visual Dictionaries

Visual dictionaries primarily use pictures to illustrate the meaning of words. They are often organized by themes, instead of being an alphabetical list of words. For each theme, an image is labeled with the correct word to identify each component of the item in question. They can be monolingual or multilingual, providing the names of items in several languages.

Etymological Dictionaries

An etymological dictionary discusses the history of the words listed.

Crossword Dictionaries

A crossword dictionary is designed to be used to help to solve crosswords or other word puzzles. Words are grouped together by the number of letters in the word.

Rhyming Dictionaries

A rhyming dictionary is a specialist dictionary designed for use in writing poetry and lyrics. In a rhyming dictionary, words are categorized into equivalence classes that consist of words which rhyme with one another. They will also typically support several different kinds of rhymes, and possibly also alliteration as well. 

Scrabble Dicationaries

A scrabble dictionary is designed to be used with the board game Scrabble. Words are listed alphabetically, along with varient spellings, and often no description is given. Interestingly only two to eight letter words are included.


A thesaurus is a book in which words with similar meanings are grouped together, it shows synonyms and related concepts for individual words, and sometimes antonyms.

What should you look for in a good dictionary?

    1. Clarity of Definitions: You want definitions that are clear and easy to understand. A good learner's dictionary will use simple language to explain the meanings of words, which is especially helpful when you're still getting familiar with the language.
      British English Variants: As you are here, I guess you're interested in British English, so look for a dictionary that specifies British spellings and usage. Words like "colour" and "favour" have their own charm on this side of the pond, and you wouldn't want to mix them up with their American cousins, "color" and "favor". A dictionary that provides both, will still be useful.
      Example Sentences: A dictionary that provides example sentences is essential. It's not just about knowing the definition; seeing how a word is used in context can really help you understand its nuances and how to use it correctly yourself. It's like seeing the word in its natural habitat!
      Pronunciation Guide: A good dictionary will show you how to pronounce words. Look for one that includes phonetic transcriptions, ideally with British pronunciation. It's one thing to know what a word means and another to say it like a true Brit.
      Word Origins (Etymology): For the language enthusiasts who love a bit of a history lesson, a dictionary that includes etymology can be fascinating. Knowing the origins of words can provide insights into the culture and history of the language, making learning even more engaging.
      Thesaurus Features: Some dictionaries come with a built-in thesaurus, which is fantastic for expanding your vocabulary. It's like having a two-for-one deal, where you not only learn the meaning of a word but also discover a plethora of synonyms to spice up your conversations.
      Usage Notes: Look for dictionaries that offer notes on usage, which can include information on whether a word is considered formal or informal, outdated, or offensive. This is akin to having a wise English teacher whispering advice about when and how to use words appropriately.
      Digital Features: In this digital age, a dictionary with an app or online access can be incredibly handy. Features like audio pronunciations, quick search, and interactive exercises can make your learning journey both effective and enjoyable.
  • Online Dictionaries