Definition of dictionary in English:

Share this entry


Pronunciation: /ˈdikSHəˌnerē/

noun (plural dictionaries)

1A book or electronic resource that lists the words of a language (typically in alphabetical order) and gives their meaning, or gives the equivalent words in a different language, often also providing information about pronunciation, origin, and usage: I’ll look up ‘love’ in the dictionary the website gives access to an online dictionary [as modifier]: the dictionary definition of ‘smile’
More example sentences
  • Apart from in books and dictionaries it was a word that was hardly heard.
  • Mark Twain claimed never to have coined a word as far as he knew, though historical dictionaries list him as the first user of many.
  • The latest dictionary contains new words and phrases that sum up life in the UK today.
lexicon, wordbook, word list, glossary;
1.1A reference work on a particular subject, the items of which are typically arranged in alphabetical order: a dictionary of quotations
More example sentences
  • Instead I had to settle for a couple of old-fashioned dictionaries of quotations.
  • The standard dictionaries of English quotations don't have a single Indian entry.
  • Save for a brief quotation from a dictionary of folklore, I have so far neglected Anglo-Saxon attitudes.
1.2 Computing A set of words or other text strings made for use in applications such as spelling checkers: the worm attempts to crack account passwords using a built-in dictionary
More example sentences
  • If it finds something in your text that isn't in the dictionary, you are offered a list of alternatives you can include instead.
  • There are tools on the Internet that use dictionaries of common words and phrases to crack a password.
  • I wanted to remove the misspelled word from the dictionary, but couldn't figure out how to do it.


have swallowed a dictionary

informal Use long and obscure words when speaking.
Example sentences
  • The reception was held in the Armagh City Hotel and by all accounts everybody swore that Noel had swallowed a dictionary because of all the big words he used during the speech.
  • Hulme seems to have swallowed a dictionary and the results are arch and self-congratulatory.
  • It sounds like someone has swallowed a dictionary and is trying to justify a wishy wash outlook.


Early 16th century: from medieval Latin dictionarium (manuale) or dictionarius (liber) 'manual or book of words', from Latin dictio (see diction).

  • lexicon from early 17th century:

    While a dictionary (early 16th century) goes back to the Latin dicere ‘to speak’, lexicon comes from Greek lexikon (biblion) ‘(book) of words’, from lexis ‘word’, from legein ‘speak’.

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: dic·tion·ar·y

Share this entry

What do you find interesting about this word or phrase?

Comments that don't adhere to our Community Guidelines may be moderated or removed.