The Oxford English Dictionary

Oxford publishes many different types of dictionaries, from bilingual dictionaries, dictionaries for English learners, and children’s dictionaries, to dictionaries for research and study. Perhaps the most well known is the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the definitive historical record of the English language.

This site ( is not the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). You’ll find the OED at You’ll need a subscription to use the OED fully. You may be able to use the OED at home through your local public library: ask your librarian for information.

The free site offers you a comprehensive current English dictionary and practical help with writing English. It also contains free up-to-date bilingual dictionaries in French, German, Italian, and Spanish.

What is the OED?

The OED is one of the largest dictionaries in the world and the accepted authority on the evolution of the English language, tracing the use of more than 600,000 words over the last 1,000 years through 3 million quotations. The OED defines:

  • how a word has been used
  • where it came from
  • when it first entered the English language
  • how its meaning has changed over time and around the world

It illustrates these definitions by quoting from more than 100,000 modern and historical texts, from classic literature such as Shakespeare’s plays to film and television scripts such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as well as wills, cookery books, blogs, and more. Subscribers to the OED can also access the Historical Thesaurus of the OED on This unique resource allows you to explore the riches of the English language by theme, and to chart the linguistic progress over time of a chosen object, concept, or expression.

Take a tour of the OED >>

“Not like other dictionaries”: how the OED is different.

The OED is a historical dictionary, with a structure that is very different from that of a dictionary of current English. The table below highlights some of the key differences between the OED and a current usage dictionary such as such as the one on

The OED: key features key features

Historical dictionary.

Current dictionary.

Helps you to discover how English words and meanings have changed over time.

Provides current definitions of English words as they are used today.

Entries are ordered chronologically, so the first listed sense of a word will be the earliest meaning for which our lexicographers could find evidence.

Entries are ordered to display the most common meanings that are being used in modern English first, with less common senses further down the entry.

Traces the development and history of the words and phrases in the English language. Words are never removed from the OED.

Offers guidance on how the English language is used today, based on the Oxford English Corpus. Words can be removed when they are no longer used.

Tools that help to explore the history of the English language in different ways, including:

  • timelines
  • categories
  • Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary
  • Sources

Tools that help with your use of the English language in everyday situations, including advice on:

  • grammar
  • punctuation
  • spelling
  • improving your English
  • writing job applications and other letters

Uses more than 3 million quotations to show how words have been used over the complete history of the English language.

Displays example sentences from the Oxford English Corpus of 21st century language to show how to use a word in the context of a sentence.


Explore the OED and entries for ‘car’ to see the differences:

‘car’ in the OED | ‘car’ on


Examples of questions you can answer with the OED

  • Is a particular word from Yorkshire or Australia?
  • What were the new words to talk about horseracing in 1700?
  • Which words do we trace back to Shakespeare?
  • Which decade sees the most words relating to football first recorded?
  • What are the 93 nouns that have been used for rain throughout the history of English?
  • Who contributes the earliest known evidence for more English words, Chaucer or Milton?
  • How are social changes reflected in language, from the 250 words related to motoring dated from 1900-09, and the number of film-related words from between 1920-1939?

The OED: a unique story

For well over 100 years the OED has told the history of the English language by reporting in detail on individual words. The history of this extraordinary research project is its own story; beginning with the members of the Philological Society of London deciding, in 1857, that existing English language dictionaries were incomplete and deficient. . . Read more about the history of the OED.