What are the main differences between the OED and Oxford Dictionaries?

There are many different types of English dictionary, which have different types of content and coverage and are designed to serve different needs and users. The OED and the dictionaries in Oxford Dictionaries are themselves very different. While Oxford Dictionaries focuses on the current language and practical usage, the OED shows how words and meanings have changed over time.

The dictionary content in Oxford Dictionaries focuses on current English and includes modern meanings and uses of words. Where words have more than one meaning, the most important and common meanings in modern English are given first, and less common and more specialist or technical uses are listed below. The OED, on the other hand, is a historical dictionary and it forms a record of all the core words and meanings in English over more than 1,000 years, from Old English to the present day, and including many obsolete and historical terms. Meanings are ordered chronologically in the OED, according to when they were first recorded in English, so that senses with the earliest evidence of usage appear first and more recent senses appear further down the entry – like a ‘family tree’ for each word.

Both the OED and Oxford Dictionaries contain a wealth of evidence from real English to show how words are used in context. In the OED each word meaning is illustrated by a set of quotations, spanning perhaps many centuries, from the earliest recorded appearance to the most recent recorded usages. In Oxford Dictionaries, the evidence is derived from the 2.3 billion word Oxford English Corpus, a huge databank of 21st century English, and each word sense in the dictionary is linked to a set of sentences so you can see how people are using the language today.

If you are looking for practical help or advice on how to use English in writing and speaking today, then Oxford Dictionaries will provide you with the information you need. If you’re also interested in how our language has developed over time or want to dig deeper into its origins or variations around the world, then the OED is the definitive resource.

If you would like to find out more about the OED, including its history and how it’s compiled, then please visit the OED website.

“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 oxforddictionaries.com.

The OED: key features

OxfordDictionaries.com: 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 OxfordDictionaries.com entries for ‘car’ to see the differences:

‘car’ in the OED | ‘car’ on OxfordDictionaries.com

See other frequently asked questions about dictionaries