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Home > French > Reading > Dictionary skills (General)


Dictionary skills (General)

Looking up a French word

Start off by opening your dictionary in approximately the right place. If the word you want starts with 'v', open towards the end of the French section. This becomes easier with practice! At the top of each page, there are two words in bold which are called Headers. They tell you the first and the last word on each page and help you identify which page you should concentrate on.

Look at the examples below and the explanation of each entry.


  1. Vapeur
  2. [vapoeR]
  3. nf
  4. steam
A dictionary lying open with its pages fanned out.
  1. This is the 'entry', the French word you have looked up
  2. These squiggles are phonetics, a special way of writing which helps us know how to pronounce a word. Ignore these when you're hunting for the meaning of a word.
  3. The letters in italics are abbreviations which give you grammatical information. In this case, vapeur is a noun (n) and it's feminine (f).
  4. At last! This is the English meaning of the word you were looking for!

vandale [vãdal] nm/f vandal

  • This word is easy to guess, so you wouldn't have to look up its meaning. Notice it can be masculine (m) or feminine (f) - it depends on the sex of the vandal!

vantard,e [vãtaR, -aRd] a boastful

  • This word is an adjective ( a ). Notice that the masculine form is given first in the dictionary. This is an important point to be aware of. If an adjective in a text you're reading is written in another form, you have to try to look up the masculine, singular equivalent. Apart from some irregular adjectives, this is usually easy to workout. For example, if you see the word 'vantardes', you would take off the plural 's' and the feminine 'e' to be left with 'vantard' which you would find in your dictionary.

vaciller [vasije] vi to sway, wobble

  • This is a verb(vi or vt). Verbs are listed in the infinitive the part that means to do something, with the ending -er, -ir, or -re.

vas vb voir aller

  • This word is a verb, but it is not the infinitive form, so the entry tells you to look up the word 'aller', the infinitive which is explained elsewhere in the dictionary.

vite [vit] ad quickly

  • This word is an adverb (ad) and describes a verb.

vlan [vlã] excl wham! , bang!

  • This word is an exclamation (excl). Two possible translations are given - you would have to choose which one fits in best with the meaning of the text.

vers [veR] prép (en direction de) toward(s); (prèsde) around (about); (temporel) about, around

  • This word is a preposition (prép). A preposition is a word which indicates position (like on, in, under etc.) Three meanings are given - the words in brackets explain the context for each one to help you choose the correct meaning.

vent [vã] nm wind; il y a du ~ it's windy; c'est du ~ it's all hot air; au ~ to windward; sous le ~ to leeward; dans le ~ (fam)trendy.

  • This is an example of a longer entry. Don't just choose the first meaning you see, especially if it doesn't make sense in the context. Many words have several meanings, so it's worth reading the entry until you find the correct meaning. To save space, the original word is often replaced by the symbol '~'. In the above entry the last meaning is described as 'familiar' (fam) which means it is used in everyday conversation.


Man climbing on Ma France.

Ma France

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