Dictionaries are an extremely useful source of information about a language, and they can certainly be very helpful to our students as well. Luckily, nowadays, various dictionaries are freely available on the internet, and I believe many of you are familiar with the most standard and commonly used ones, such as Merriam-Webster, Cambridge, and Oxford. Also, TESOL blogger Tara Arntsen described these frequently used online dictionaries in one of her blog posts.
In addition to these general dictionaries, I’d like to draw readers’ attention to a few online dictionaries that focus on specific information about lexical items, such as phrasal verbs dictionary, idioms and idiomatic expressions dictionary, collocations dictionary, synonyms dictionary, etymology dictionary, and visual dictionary. This information can be particularly useful to English language learners.
Phrasal verbs belong to some of the most challenging aspects of the English language for many learners. This online resource provides references to more than 3,000 current phrasal verbs. As in any other dictionary, the verbs are organized in alphabetical order. You can also look up a particular verb or a particular preposition. For example, if you are interested in various verbs that are used with the preposition “up,” you can set up your search accordingly and get the list of all items available in this dictionary that are composed of verbs and the preposition “up,” for example, make up, follow up, mess up, sum up, and write up.
Another common lexical challenge in the English language (and in many other languages, for that matter) is idioms. This dictionary offers a list of almost 4,000 English idioms. Each entry comes with a definition as well as references to other similar idioms. For example, if you are looking up the idiom “off the wall,” the dictionary will also refer you to the idioms “fly on the wall,” “back to the wall,” and “talking to a brick wall.”
This basic collocations dictionary may be very helpful to both beginning and advanced learners. What I particularly like about this dictionary is the organization of the collocations that can be used with the target word: common collocations before the target word, common collocations after the target word, as well as common collocations of different parts of speech used with the target word. For example, if you are looking up the word “question,” the dictionary indicates “no common collocations used after this word.” The common collocations used before the word “question” include ask, answer, any, few, same, and without. Some of the common noun collocations used with the word “question” include answer, side, discussion, mark, and object, and the common adjectives used with the word “question” include direct, little, next, political, and such.
This is a pretty straightforward dictionary of synonyms: You enter the target word and get a list of synonyms of that word. But it also provides synonyms of found synonyms, which I find particularly useful. For example, if you are looking up the word “vehement,” the results are passionate, torrid, ardent, fierce, extreme, impassioned, fiery, and intense. You can further elaborate your search and look up synonyms for each of these adjectives. For example, you can search for synonyms for the word “intense,” which are (according to the dictionary) 1) concentrated: fierce, vehement, furious, violent, unwavering, desperate, vicious, and 2) profound: strong, deep, hard, extreme.
This is an extremely interesting resource not only for English learners but also for native speakers. It enriches users’ knowledge about the language and provides insightful details on the meanings of the words that people commonly use in their everyday interactions. The resources that the authors used to compile this dictionary include Weekley’s “An etymological dictionary of modern English,” Klein’s “A comprehensive etymological dictionary of the English language,” “Oxford English dictionary” (second edition), “Barnhart dictionary of etymology,” Holthausen’s “Etymologisches Wörterbuch der Englischen Sprache,” and Kipfer and Chapman’s “Dictionary of American slang.”
This dictionary may be particularly helpful to beginners. The items in the dictionary are organized according to the following topics: astronomy, Earth, plants and gardening, animal kingdom, human being, food and kitchen, house, clothing, arts and architecture, communication, transport and machinery, energy, science, society, and sports and games. Each of these themes is further broken down into smaller thematic categories. The dictionary is well organized and easy to navigate.
What dictionaries to you use in your classes or recommend to your students? Please share in the comments.