How to use a dictionary

  • A dictionary can be used to look up the meaning of a word.

  • You can also use a dictionary to check the spelling of a word.

  • Dictionaries may also give other information about words, such as word type and word origin.

Find out how to use a dictionary

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An open dictionary with a E-Reader next to it.

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How to use a dictionary

Dictionaries are organised alphabetically, so start with the first letter of the word that you are trying to find.

'Alliteration' is going to be in the first section of the dictionary under 'a'.

There will be lots of entries for each letter of the alphabet, so use the guide word at the top of the page to help you. The guide word tells you what the first or last word on that page of the dictionary is.

You will need to look at the second letter of the word, and then the third, and so on, in order to find it. It takes a little practice to find words quickly.

You may need to scan several pages of the dictionary in order to find the word that you need. Scanning is a way of reading quickly to find the information that you need. The more you practise, the better you will get at finding words fast.

Image showing the guide word is in the top right hand corner

Word types

When you find your word, there may be an abbreviation next to it. Perhaps vb., n., or adj. The introduction to your dictionary will tell you what they each mean because every dictionary is different, but these are the most common and may indicate that your word is a verb, a noun, or an adjective.

Different meanings

Some words have multiple meanings. These will usually be numbered, and may have an example of the way that the word can be used in a sentence.

Some dictionaries may give even more information; perhaps about the origin and history of a word, or some of its synonyms (words or phrases which mean the same, or nearly the same).

Dictionary quiz

Test your knowledge on how to use a dictionary with this quick quiz.