How should I use my dictionary?

What dictionaries do I need?

If possible, you should buy two dictionaries: a good bilingual dictionary and a good English-English dictionary.

  • The bilingual dictionary is quicker and easier for you to understand;
  • the English-English dictionary may give you more information about a word or phrase,

It is also a good idea for you to work in English as much as possible.

Here are some current recommended English-English dictionaries:

Large dictionaries

  • Cambridge International Dictionary of English
  • Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English
  • Collins COBUILD English Dictionary
  • Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary

Medium-sized dictionaries

  • Collins COBUILD Essential Dictionary
  • Oxford Wordpower Dictionary
  • Longman Active Study Dictionary

What information does a dictionary give me?

  • the meaning, e.g. homesick = unhappy when you are away from home for a long time
  • the pronunciation, e.g. chaos /kems/, dreadful /dredful/, island /aitand/
  • the part of speech, e.g. dirty adj {= adjective), lose v (= verb), law n (= noun)
  • any special grammatical features, e.g. advice (U) (= uncountable)
  • common collocations (word partners), e.g. you do homework [NOT you make homcwofk]
  • example phrases or sentences, e.g. It was such a big menu, I didn’t know what to choose.
  • opposites (where they exist), e.g. polite (* impolite/rude)

Note: In most English-English dictionaries for foreign learners, collocations are usually shown in bold or italics, or they are included in the examples given after the definition.

How should I use my dictionary?

Here are some ideas to help you.

• When you look up a word, put a V  next to it. Each time you return to a page with a V  look at it quickly to check that you remember the word.

• If you see an English word in a text, first try to guess the meaning, and carry on reading to see if your guess seems correct. Use your dictionary to check the meaning.

• If you look up a word in a bilingual dictionary and get several different words in your own language, look up the word in your monolingual dictionary. This should help you to decide which word in your own language is the nearest translation in this context.

• Remember that many words have more than one meaning, and the first meaning in the dictionary is not always the one you want. Read through the different meanings.




Quotation marks are most commonly used to enclose speaker’s exact words, and to set apart words that are discussed.

  • a) Our teacher then asked, “Would you like to go outside today?” (direct quotation)
  • b) The word “thunderstorm” often brings fear among the very young in our group.


A colon introduces a list, a direct quotation, and the end portion of a sentence that is an explanation. It is used after an introductory classification, after the salutation in a formal letter and between numbers in time.

  • a) The following items were bought at the pharmacy: pop, newspaper, and a bottle of hair shampoo.
  • b) I learned the following: I was too old and run down to compete.
  • c) He immediately replied by saying: “I am completely innocent.”
  • d) Her actions made me think of one thing: revenge!
  • e) Dear Lucas:
  • f) Being out in the sun made me think of only one thing: water!
  • g) 3:30 PM


An apostrophe is used to show ownership (possessives—singular and plural), period of time and a sum of money.
It also acts as a place holder for a missing letter. In addition, it is used to construct a contraction.

  • a) Laura’s tennis racquet
  • b) today’s proverb
  • c) three dollar’s worth of sunflower seeds
  • d) anyone’s guess
  • e) don’t, can’t


A semicolon is used to expand or lengthen an original thought and separate clauses in a written sentence.

  • a) My latest attempt to cross the ocean failed; it was a total disaster indeed!
  • b) The excitement was steadily building; I began to run as I kept my eyes on the road.


All correctly written sentences end with either a period, exclamation mark or a question mark .
A period is used at the end of a normal sentence.
It is similarly written at the end of abbreviations, initials and as a decimal point.
Use an exclamation mark to mark the end of sentences in which the writer is attempting to express strong feelings.
A question mark is used after a direct question and to indicate doubt about the accuracy of something.


A comma is used to separate a series of phrases, clauses and words in a sentence; in dates; addresses, to set off interruptions/ expressions and interjections, direct address of one person by another and also in writing of letters.

  • a) In his bag we found the racquets, the tape, and a can of tennis balls.
  • b) January 1, 2001.
  • c) 134 Sunset Drive, New Village, Australia
  • d) I was excited, nevertheless, I tried not to show emotion.
  • e) Laura, come here! f) Dear Paul,