on July 7, 2021 , Comments Off on Online Dictionary Reviews – Video
In this video, you’ll see several online dictionary reviews. Which dictionary is the best for English learners? Which should – or shouldn’t – you use? You’ll find out!
You’ll see the pros and cons of nine popular online dictionaries. We tested the following: Cambridge, Longman, dictionary.com, Collins, Lexico, Macmillan, wordreference.com, Chambers and Merriam-Webster.
If you want the short version here it is. Are you an upper-intermediate or advanced English learner who wants the most complete, full-featured online dictionary? Use Longman. Are you at intermediate level or below? Use Lexico. Maybe use Lexico even if you’re at a higher level.
You want to know why, or how we tested, or why you perhaps shouldn’t use some of these other dictionaries? Keep reading for our online dictionary reviews!
We created six tests for each online dictionary, based around looking up common verbs like ‘talk’, ‘go’, ‘pick’ and so on. We chose these verbs because they have many different meanings, as well as many phrasal verbs and idioms based on them.
In this video, we’ll focus on the verb ‘talk’.
So, what were the six tests?
The first test was for completeness: does the dictionary give you every definition of a word? As a verb, ‘talk’ can mean ‘to reveal secret information’. As a noun, ‘talk’ can mean ‘empty speech or gossip’. These meanings are less common, but still widely used. We checked to see if they were included.
The second test: does the dictionary give you definitions of phrasal verbs, collocations and idioms related to the word you look up? We checked for three entries related to the verb ‘talk’: a phrasal verb – ‘talk down to’, an idiom – ‘talk the talk’ – and a collocation – ‘know what you’re talking about’.
Test three: does the dictionary explain the difference between UK and US pronunciation and usage? The vowel sound in ‘talk’ is pronounced differently in UK and US English. Also, in UK English, you ‘talk to someone’, but the structure ‘talk with someone’ is common in US English.
Test four: does the dictionary explain verb structures and complements? For example, you can ‘talk to someone’, ‘talk with someone’, ‘talk about something’, and ‘talk of something’.
Test five: can you look up phrasal verbs and idioms directly? With some dictionaries, if you try to look up a phrasal verb like ‘put down’, it will redirect you to the root verb, ‘put’. This makes it harder to find the information you need. Good online dictionaries let you look up phrasal verbs and idioms directly.
Test six: is the information presented in a clear, organised way, and is the dictionary website easy to use? This test is more subjective, of course.
Finally, we looked for any other features which might be useful for English learners.
So, how did our dictionaries do?
1. Cambridge Dictionary
Cambridge didn’t do very well, which is a shame, because it had been my go-to online dictionary before I did this review.
Firstly, it is not complete. It doesn’t contain all the possible definitions of a word. Plus, it doesn’t have a complete list of related phrasal verbs, idioms and collocations.
On the other hand, for beginners or intermediate learners, there are some good example sentences. The definitions are well-written and clear.
It does also show the UK and US pronunciation of a word, with audio, so that’s a positive.
It doesn’t clearly show verb complements and structures.
Overall, we can’t recommend it. One of the biggest problems is that three different dictionaries are combined on one page; there’s a British English dictionary, an American dictionary, and a business English dictionary. This makes it confusing to use, because different information is in different places, and not always where you might expect it.
I won’t spend more time on it, because we found much better dictionaries you can use based on the results of our online dictionary reviews.
Longman was number one in our tests. It’s by far the most complete dictionary I found. It contained all the information you might need: every definition of the word, possible verb complements, phrasal verbs, idioms… Everything you might need is there.
Not only that, but they have example sentences and many example sentences have audio, at least for some words. That makes it a great resource for practising pronunciation. At the bottom of the page, they also have a large number of examples taken from natural English texts.
You can look up phrasal verbs and other word combinations directly. Even the longer phrase ‘know what you’re talking about’ has its own entry, with dedicated examples. That’s impressive! When you’re learning English, you’ll often hear that you need to learn language in chunks. This is good advice, so it’s great that there are dictionaries which can help you to do this.
There’s one minor criticism: it gives you the UK and US pronunciations of a word, but it doesn’t clearly show which is which. For reference, the UK pronunciation is given first, and the US pronunciation second.
OK, one more criticism: their web address is ridiculous! L-D-O-C-E online dot com? Anyway, if that’s the biggest problem, then that shows you that there aren’t many negatives here.
Longman also has a number of useful features for English learners. If you look up a verb, you can find a verb tense table which lists all the forms and tenses. Finally, it has a good thesaurus, which gives you alternative words and also explains what they mean, and how they’re different from the base word.
Generally, I found Longman one of the easiest dictionaries to use. Information is organised and presented nicely, and the page is relatively clean, without unnecessary clutter.
Dictionary.com isn’t really a dictionary in its own right. Instead, it collects information from many dictionaries.
In summary, I don’t recommend it for English learners. It’s reasonably complete, although you won’t find much information on idioms and collocations. More importantly, the information is not well-organised. A lot of info is hidden behind ‘see more’ links, but there doesn’t seem to be any logic to what’s hidden and what’s displayed immediately. Plus, because it collects information from different dictionaries on a single page, the information is divided into different sections, but not in a logical way. This makes it harder to find what you need.
It doesn’t do a good job of showing related phrasal verbs, idioms and collocations. You also can’t look up phrasal verbs directly, which is a big disadvantage.
Collins has some positive features. It scored four out of five for completeness. It has clear explanations with examples for each definition.
However, a couple of things could be better. Our test word – ‘talk’ – can be both a noun and a verb. Most dictionaries will separate the verb and noun definitions, which makes sense. Collins mixes them together in a list. It’s not bad, but it seems strange, and I think it could be confusing for some users.
Also, it gives some information about complements and structures, but it’s not so clear. They highlight the structures used in their example sentences, but there’s no dedicated information on what structures are possible and what they mean.
Finally, like some other dictionaries in our list, Collins tries to combine results from different dictionaries on one page. I think this is terrible design, because you might not even realise there are more parts to the page. You see the definitions and explanations, you get down to here, and… that looks like the end, right? But, then there’s more: a British dictionary, an American dictionary, and more examples and idioms.
Overall, not bad, but not the best.
Lexico is one of the best dictionaries we tested. I highly recommend it, especially for learners at an intermediate or lower level. Even if you’re a higher-level learner, give Lexico a try.
Why? Because it’s so clear and well-organised. For example, it gives you one example sentence for each definition, but you can also click to see more if you want. That’s a really nice feature. You just need a simple example? You can have it. You want more? You can have that, too. In general, Lexico does the best job of presenting a large amount of information in a logical way.
However, it’s also fully complete. Only two dictionaries scored 100% in our completeness tests: Longman and Lexico. Plus, information on phrasal verbs, collocations and idioms is nicely separated, and you can look up longer phrases directly; for example, if you look up an idiom like ‘talk the talk’ directly, you’ll find a dedicated page.
The only negative is that it doesn’t explain the difference between UK and US pronunciation or usage.
Overall, I also found Lexico to be the cleanest dictionary in terms of design. It’s a great choice for English learners.
Macmillan is slightly different, because it puts different parts of speech on different pages. So, if you look up ‘talk’, you’ll see definitions for the verb only. The noun definitions are on a separate page, which might not be easy to find if you’re using a mobile or a smaller screen, because they’re hidden in this ‘other entries’ box. I don’t think that’s a good point.
Macmillan has some positives: it has good information on verb complements, which is also nicely presented, and you can look up phrasal verbs and idioms directly. However, it’s not complete, and it doesn’t give any information on UK versus US pronunciation or usage.
So, it’s in the middle. There are better options based on our online dictionary reviews.
I knew about Wordreference as a bilingual dictionary. They have many bilingual versions, aimed at speakers or learners of European languages. However, they also include a monolingual English dictionary. Is it any good?
It has some advantages, but overall, it’s not recommended.
It scored better than many dictionaries we tested for completeness. It also has good information on verb complements. It even has a dedicated collocations dictionary, although it’s not useful in its current form. So, why not use it?
Like dictionary dot com, Wordreference collects information from multiple dictionaries, but this means you have too much information on one page, some of which is repeated, and it’s hard to find what you need.
You also can’t look up phrasal verbs or idioms directly. If you try to look up a phrasal verb like ‘pick up’, you’ll be redirected to the root verb – ‘pick’. Then, you’ll have to find the definition on the page.
Wordreference does have one excellent and – at least in our tests – unique feature. For pronunciation, it has audio not just for UK and US English, but also for other regions, such as Ireland or Jamaica. It also includes some regional UK and US accents. This is really useful, because actually there isn’t just one UK pronunciation and one US pronunciation of a word. There are many English accents, in the UK, US and in other English-speaking countries, and it’s good to understand how pronunciation is different in different parts of the world.
So, maybe use Wordreference for the pronunciation audio, but I don’t recommend it as a dictionary.
I’ll keep this short: don’t use Chambers. Two points: first, they print information in a big block, like you’d find in a paper dictionary. That makes sense on paper, because you need to save money and space. On the web, there’s no reason to do this, and it makes it harder to find what you’re looking for.
Secondly, Chambers doesn’t seem to be aimed at learners of English as a second language. It doesn’t give many examples, nor does it give information about verb complements, phrasal verbs, and so on. You can’t look up phrasal verbs or other longer chunks directly.
It’s not terrible; it does the basic job of a dictionary, but I can’t see any reason to use it.
Merriam-Webster also doesn’t have much to recommend it. One major disadvantage: it doesn’t give complete lists of phrasal verbs, idioms or collocations when you look up a word. It includes four phrases here, but why these four? Why not others? This seems strange; if you’re going to include some phrasal verbs or idioms, you should include all of them.
There’s no information on UK versus US pronunciation or usage. There’s also no information on verb complements. They give examples, but the examples aren’t full sentences, making them less useful.
Finally, the design is weird. There are all these colons and slashes in odd places. Maybe that doesn’t bother you, but I found it unnecessary and a little confusing.
On the other hand, you can look up phrasal verbs and idioms directly. Also, it has real-life examples which are pulled from the internet, although they aren’t always accurately classified. For example, some of the examples for ‘talk’ as a verb are actually the noun form.
Having reviewed these dictionaries, I’ve switched my go-to online dictionary from Cambridge to Longman and Lexico. Honestly, I was surprised at how badly Cambridge came out of these tests.
Although I think Longman is the best, I would actually recommend Lexico for most purposes. It gives you complete information, and it’s so easy to use.
What about you? What dictionary do you use? Are you planning to switch to a new one? Do you have anything to add to our reviews? Let us know in the comments!