The premium version of Oxford Dictionaries Online (ODO) offers a wealth of extra content and features, including a unique resource – Example sentences. This is a vast databank of more than 1.9 million sentences (around 38 million words) of real English, extracted from the world’s newspapers and magazines, academic journals, fiction, and blogs.
There are approximately 90,000 headwords and 200,000 senses in each version (US and World) of the ODO dictionary, and almost every one of these words, senses, and phrases has been linked to a selection of up to 20 extra examples from the databank. If a word or phrase has more than one meaning, each individual sense is linked to its own set of example sentences. This is the first time that dictionaries have been linked to real-life examples so precisely or on such a scale.
How does it work?
There are two ways to see the extra example sentences.
- Just enter any word into the dictionary quick search box. When you get to the entry, move your mouse down the screen to highlight particular senses and call up the More examples links.
Here are just a few of the extra examples you will find at the page for the verb greet:
You can view these extra examples via links to specific meanings from a dictionary page, as shown above, or, for a wider picture of all the uses of a word, it’s easy to search for it within the whole sentence databank by clicking on the See all example sentences link on the same page.
- It’s also possible to bypass the specific dictionary entry pages and search within Example sentences from the outset.
This allows you to carry out some imaginative and interesting searches. For example, here’s part of the search results list using the wild card * to stand for any number of characters before the ending ette:
As you can see, this will give you all the words in Example sentences that have the ending –ette.
Within these results, you can also click on any word in a sentence to go to the dictionary entry for that word or to see more examples:
What are the benefits?
Example sentences provides an impressive array of real-world examples, enabling users to see instantly how today’s English is actually used, as a global language.
It offers a wide range of additional information to help users gain a better understanding of the word or sense in question and the ways in which it can be used, and helps them tease out the differences between senses of a word that may be quite close in meaning. As the example for *ette above shows, it’s also a fascinating way of exploring word formation.
All these benefits mean that Example sentences is an ideal resource for:
- teachers and lecturers
- high-level non-native speakers of English
- language researchers
- writers of all types
- word mavens
How did we create Example sentences?
- Source and computational stage
All the examples found in Example sentences were taken from the Oxford English Corpus (OEC), a vast database containing over 2 billion words of 21st century English, collected mainly from the World Wide Web.
An ingenious piece of computer software carried out an initial trawl of the OEC for sentences containing a particular word or phrase, and then (for multi-sense words, such as head) sought to match each sentence to the correct dictionary sense. The program also rejected sentences which appeared to be overlong, too short, ungrammatical, etc.
The OEC was intentionally built to include a balanced selection of the widest possible variety of different types and levels of writing from around the world, from very informal personal blogs to specialist or academic works written in formal or technical English. Because it was created from a huge range of sources, the content of the OEC also reflects the broad spectrum of views expressed by people in all walks of modern life.
Additionally, some of the OEC sentences may include typographical errors, non-standard, or very obscure vocabulary; in some dictionary entries with many senses (e.g. head) sentences were not always computationally assigned to their correct senses.
Because of this, the next stage of the project was editorial - to manually check the results of the automatic selection process. Editors reviewed every sentence to ensure that the resulting content was:
- a correct match for each sense
- free of spelling and typographical errors
- well-formed grammatically
- represented a typical range of grammatical and collocational patterns
- was balanced between US, British, and World English
- was straightforward to understand and did not contain very rare or unusual vocabulary
- was not offensive or contentious
Any intervention by editors had to be balanced with the desirability of keeping the freshness and flavour of the original writing, in all its diversity. People often express strong opinions about certain topics which others might disagree with, but of course none of the views to be found in Example sentences are endorsed by Oxford University Press.
This approach means that Example sentences provides an excellent bank of examples of idiomatic English in all its variety, forming a valuable resource that gives a true snapshot of how today’s language is actually used.