The Best English Dictionary


To improve your English you really must use a good basic English dictionary. How do you choose a dictionary? What options do you have?

English Dictionary


Let's Start with This…

If you want to learn English, then an English dictionary should be a very good friend of yours. You can find out what each new (or "old") word means, how to use this word, how to pronounce it, what is the plural form, and other useful data.

Without a good dictionary, learning can be a lot harder.

But there are so many English dictionaries! How do you start?


What is the Right Dictionary for You?

Do you remember the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears?

Goldilocks In the story, Goldilocks tries different kinds of things, until she finds just the right one for her. For example, she looks for a bed. She tries the big bed, it is too hard. She tries the medium bed, it is too soft. She tried the smallest bed – it is just right!


And so it is with dictionaries. A dictionary can be too big and complicated for your level, or it can be too small and limited. The right dictionary would be one that is easy for you to understand.

Now I will give you the details, together with some examples. Note that you do not necessarily have to use those specific English dictionaries.

These are simply my recommendations after many years of using dictionaries, by myself, and with other people. 

Another reason these dictionaries are given here is that these are the main simple dictionaries available online for free.


So let's get to the point:

  1. If your English is not very good, an English-English dictionary may be too hard for you. Start with a good bilingual dictionary, for example English-French (if you are French!). A rather good and quick bilingual dictionary software is Babylon. It is not free, but it has a free trial.
  2. Next, you can move on to a simple English-English dictionary, with simple definitions, which are clear to you. One excellent dictionary of this category is the Oxford Essential Dictionary.

    The Cambridge Learner's Dictionary might be good for you, too. This one is absolutely free online.
  3. When you feel ready and your vocabulary is rich enough, advance to a higher level English dictionary. Such a dictionary will have more definitions and additional data on every word. That way you will be able to understand each word more thoroughly. Examples to such a dictionary can be the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary or the Longman English Dictionary. A bit more advanced option could be MSN Encarta College Dictionary.

    Another wonderful dictionary is Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary. It has good and simple definitions and many example sentences. I must admit this one is my favorite!

    These ones are absolutely free online too.
  4. On the next step, you have the really big, extensive, English dictionaries, Such as Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary. These are suitable if your level of English is really advanced. This article does not cover them.
Important note: although BIG dictionaries tend to be more thorough, don't try to use an advanced dictionary if your vocabulary isn't big enough. It will hardly assist you, and is more likely to confuse you!

What's great about all of the dictionaries mentioned above is that you can use them FREE online. However, in many cases, there is no replacement for the real solid thing. It continues to serve you when you are away from your computer: traveling, on course or simply offline. Click on the dictionary you like to purchase it on Amazon.com. As mentioned before, I must admit that my personal favorite is the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary.



OneLook Dictionary Search - There is an excellent site which lets you search many different online dictionaries at once. This is a great free service. You simply type in your word in the search box, and get many different results (and dictionaries) to choose from. Most of the dictionaries in this search are medium level and above, though.

In conclusion, like Goldilocks, you need to find just the right dictionary for you. As your level of English improves, you may find more good dictionaries for you to use successfully. And hopefully, unlike Goldilocks, you will be able to do it without encountering any angry bears and running away…

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