Choosing an online dictionary

Online dictionaries are very useful tools when writing and reading and there are some really good ones out there. Go for a learner dictionary – this will be more useful and give you more detailed information about usage. Here are some tips on how to choose an online dictionary:

1. Make sure the definitions of the words are easier than the words themselves! Some are way more complicated.

2. Look at the other information provided about the words. Does it give you enough information to understand the word and help you to use it? Does it give example sentences? Does it show you other words that go with that word? Can you hear how the word is said (by Brits and/or Americans)?

3. Don’t stick to one dictionary – often it’s useful to get a definition from one dictionary and then cross check this against the definition in another dictionary. This may give you a better definition for the situation where you have seen the word. Online dictionaries are free to the user so why stick with just one?

Here are three good online dictionaries that will be particularly useful for people learning English as an additional language or people with lower levels of literacy.

Macmillan Online Dictionary

Macmillan online dictionary
Key features:

  • The red colour and the star show that the word frequently occurs in English. Less common words are black. Even more common words have two or three stars.
  • All words used for definitions in this dictionary are in the most commonly occurring 2500 words in English.
  • Each word links to a thesaurus entry.

Cambridge Online Dictionary

Cambridge online dictionaries
Key features:

  • B2 and C1. This refers to the Council of Europe Framework. Cambridge English have a large ongoing project called the English Profile project which charts language usage by people of different levels of language proficiency. For this word, the first two definitions would be likely to be known by someone operating at B2 level on the Council of Europe Framework but the third definition will only be used by people at the higher C1 level. Interesting!
  • UK and US pronunciation
  • “Smart” thesaurus with links to related words.

Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary

Oxford online dictionary

Key features:

  • The key symbol shows that it is an important (and frequent) word.
  • British and American pronunciation.
  • Option to create own word list, if you pay a small subscription.
  • Note: word family on right hand side (explorer, exploration etc.)
  • Wordfinder – emphasis on building vocabulary through learning related words.

These are all good (free) and useful tools and there are probably others out there which are great too. Let us know if you come across any other good ones.