Help! What kind of English dictionary should I use?

help! what kind of english dictionary should i use? cover

Have you ever searched for ‘English dictionary’ on I did the other day and guess how many results came up …

No, it’s more than that …

More than that …

The total number was 205,331 results!

If sells 205,331 different dictionaries, can you imagine how many different English dictionaries there are in the whole world?

So, with so many different dictionaries, how do you choose which one is right for you? Let’s look at five different kinds of dictionaries to see which one is best for you.

Dual-language dictionary

This is probably the first kind of dictionary you saw when you started learning English. One half is to search for words in another language and see what they are in English. The other half of the dictionary has words listed in English and their equivalents in another language.

This kind of dictionary is convenient and good for beginners because it is very easy to find out what words mean quickly. The problems with it are that sometimes the exact meaning of the word is slightly different and that it encourages students to translate rather than thinking in English.

Single-language dictionary

There is a good range of single-language dictionaries available covering many different types of English. There are even special ones just for phrasal verbs and idioms. The dictionary only uses one language and the meanings of words are explained in that language with several examples.

These dictionaries are good for more advanced learners as they encourage people to think in English and help people practise reading when they are looking up the meanings of words.

Electronic dictionary

It’s possible to find dual-language and single-language electronic dictionaries. Some electronic dictionaries even have several different dictionaries loaded inside them.

Electronic dictionaries can be useful if they are used well, especially as they often give audio examples for you to check your pronunciation with. Be careful about using them too much, though. If you rely on translating a lot with an electronic dictionary, it can stop your speaking and listening skills from becoming fluent.

Online Dictionaries

There are loads of great online dictionaries. Many of the best are free and provide a very useful service. Online dictionaries from famous publishers such as Cambridge University Press are usually very accurate.

Be careful about some free dictionaries that allow users to write their own definitions of words, they might not always be correct.


Having a dictionary that you can take everywhere with you is really useful. As most of us take our mobile phones everywhere with us, it makes sense to use them as dictionaries.

As with online dictionaries, it’s best to use apps from well-known sources to make sure the information in them is correct. It’s also important not to use them too much, otherwise you may find it difficult to improve your fluency and skills guessing from context skills.

What kind of dictionary do you use and why do you like it?

image: Liz West

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