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Dictionaries help you will help you find

  • define unknown words and phrases
  • find the correct spelling, pronunciation, & usage of a word
  • find the right words for the topic you are discussing
  • find the equivalent term in another language
  • find synonyms for words you use frequently
  • increase your working vocabulary
  • express your thoughts and ideas as clearly and correctly as possible

A dictionary is a reference book that contains

  • an alphabetical list of words with their meanings, pronunciation, and etymology, or
  • an alphabetical list of words with their translation into another language, or
  • an alphabetical list of words or other linguistic items for a particular subject with the definition of each word or item.

Types of dictionaries

Language dictionaries

  • cover a single language, such as English, French, Chinese, etc.
  • provide authoritative standards for spelling, pronunciation, etymology, usage, definition, and sometimes synonyms and antonyms.
  • Unabridged dictionaries try to include every word in a language, e.g.The Oxford English Dictionary 20 volumes.
  • Abridged dictionaries contain only the most commonly used words in a language, e.g. Webster's College Dictionary 1 volume.

Multi-lingual dictionaries

  • cover more than one language and provide the translation of the words of one language into the words of one or more other languages, e.g. the Larousse Concise French-English, English-French Dictionary

Polyglot dictionaries

  • provide word equivalents for multiple languages, e.g. The Concise Dictionary of Twenty-six Languages in Simultaneous Translations.
  • frequently have a tabular format.

Subject or specialized dictionaries

  • list and define the words, terms, and concepts of a specific subject, e.g. the Mathematics Dictionary, the Bantam Medical Dictionary, the Dictionary of Baseball, or Websters' First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language.

How dictionaries are organized

The preface and introduction to a dictionary will tell you the scope of that dictionary and how it works.

Because dictionaries and encyclopedias are both organized in an alphabetical sequence and contain information in a concise format the distinction between them can become blurred. For example, the Grand Dictionnaire Encyclopedique Larousse and the Dictionary of American History are arranged alphabetically but each entry contains more information than is found in a dictionary and less than is found in an encyclopedia.

To find dictionaries

To find an appropriate dictionary for your needs, do a SUBJECT search in the library's catalog on a broad topic such as art, science, English language, or animals and look for the subdivision "dictionaries" after that subject term. This will give you a list of dictionaries on that topic owned by the library.

At any time, you can ASK A LIBRARIAN for the best dictionary to use for your area of interest.