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Dictionaries of words, synonyms and collocations – a comparison

We will examine how different types of dictionaries treat the same word.

A monolingual dictionary gives explanations in simple English:

An entry from Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English explaining the word management
Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English

You can read more about dictionaries here.

A dictionary of synonyms suggests alternative words:

An entry from Collins English Thesaurus explaining the word management
Collins English Thesaurus

More about dictionaries of synonyms can be found here.

A dictionary of collocations shows how a word can be combined with other words and parts of speech:

An entry from Oxford Collocations Dictionary explaining the word management
Oxford Collocations Dictionary

Read more about dictionaries of collocations here.

Finally, a thesaurus is built on concepts and ideas and will give you lots and lots of closely and more remotely related words and expressions:

A page from Rogets Thesaurus showing the entry for management
Roget’s Thesaurus

A thesaurus gives you ample opportunity to vary your text, but you need to understand nuances in meaning. Under Vb. (Verb) we find neutral phrases such as be in charge and have overall responsibility but also expressions from working life such as take the helm (of a ship), take the chair (lead a meeting) and hold the reins (of a horse). We also find more informal phrases such as wear the trousers, which implies someone who is in control and makes decisions. You would not use that expression in a serious text about the CEO of a company!

Read more about thesauri here.

Dictionaries of synonyms

An amusing text with synonyms published by Missoula Public Library
Courtesy of Missoula Public Library

A synonym is a word with the same or almost the same meaning as another word. Occur is a synonym for happen; generally and usually are synonyms and so are big, large and great. An antonym is the opposite of a synonym.

Synonyms are useful for creating variation in a text. Instead of writing nice several times, you can use pleasant, agreeable, enjoyable, delightful, charming, etc.

The entry for the word nice from Oxford Dictionary of Synonyms and Antonyms
Oxford Dictionary of Synonyms and Antonyms

You must understand that there are nuances; one synonym may have a slightly different meaning than another and there may also be differences in usage. You can read more about this in my post about big, large and great.

Before you decide to use a certain synonym you must be sure (1) that the word you choose has the meaning you intend and (2) that it is used in a correct way.

Examples of printed dictionaries of synonyms are
Collins English Thesaurus
Longman Synonym Dictionary
Oxford Dictionary of Synonyms and Antonyms

You can get them from your bookshop or, e.g., Amazon, Bokus or Adlibris.

The following resources, among others, can be found online:

thesaurus.com
powerthesaurus.org
synonym.com
synonyms.net
synonymy.com
synonym-finder.com
thefreedictionary.com
en.oxforddictionaries.com/thesaurus

In Microsoft Word you can right-click a word and choose Synonyms. You can also search on Google. Write synonym followed by a colon and the word you want to find alternatives to.

You can find a comparison of different types of dictionaries here.

Dictionaries

You are an expert in your field, but there will be times when you need to look up a word to make sure your English is correct.

The first resource that comes to mind if you are a non-native English writer is a bilingual dictionary. You use a German–English, an Italian–English, a Swedish–English, etc. dictionary. There are general wordbooks, but you may need a specialised dictionary. For Swedish writers the standard work is Ingvar E. Gullberg: Svensk–engelsk fackordbok för näringsliv, förvaltning, undervisning och forskning [A Swedish–English dictionary of technical terms used in business, industry, administration, education and research] (Norstedts, 2000). With over 200 000 headwords it is the largest specialised dictionary in Sweden. It is also available as internet subscription from ne.ord.se at SEK 29/month.

There are, of course, also dictionaries dealing with vocabulary in specific fields of interest such as architecture, economics, medicine, slang, technology, etc.

Monolingual dictionaries, in our case completely in English, give you helpful explanations of words. They are usually intended for non-native users of English and therefore the explanations are simple and easy to understand. Use them to check that a word you have chosen really has the meaning you intended. Here is an example from Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English:

Examples of such dictionaries are:

Cambridge International Dictionary of English
Collins English Dictionary
Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English
Oxford Dictionary of English

You can get printed dictionaries in your bookstore or at, e.g., Amazon, Bokus or Adlibris.

Printed dictionaries are expensive and are not regularly updated. You can find many useful resources on the internet. The dictionaries mentioned above are available online. The following are some other internet sites for your word search:

wordreference.com
thefreedictionary.com
linguee.com
bab.la
translate.google.com
images.google.com
mymemory.translated.net
proz.com
ne.ord.se

What if you cannot find a translation of the word you want to use? Ask an expert! Once when I had to translate a word that I could not find in any dictionary, I called the Swedish Coast Guard and asked how they said the word in English. Of course they could help me.

Read about different types of dictionaries here.

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