We spent 43 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top selections for this wiki. One of the best ways to improve your vocabulary is by frequently referring to an authoritative source. These hardcover dictionaries contain thousands of words along with useful background materials, and are available in editions suitable for everyone from youngsters to students to adults. In addition to basic English language varieties, we’ve also included some field-specific options. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work.
10. Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words
- Has greek and hebrew translations
- Keyed to james strong’s numbers
- Somewhat cumbersome to use
|Rating||4.4 / 5.0|
9. Scholastic Children’s
- Includes a ten-page thesaurus
- Has multiple world maps
- Missing many common core words
|Rating||3.9 / 5.0|
8. Mosby’s Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing & Health Professions
- Reflects modern developments
- Also suitable for the lay person
- Photos are too graphic for some
|Publisher||Elsevier Science Health|
|Rating||3.9 / 5.0|
7. Webster’s New Explorer Large Print
- Very concise definitions
- Lacking some commonly used words
- Not suitable for college use
|Publisher||Webster’s New Explorer|
|Rating||4.1 / 5.0|
6. New Oxford American
- Displays principal meanings first
- Copies of us national documents
- Includes access to online references
|Publisher||New Oxford American|
|Rating||4.5 / 5.0|
5. DK Publishing’s My First
- Focuses on commonly used terms
- Makes learning fun
- Good choice for new readers
|Publisher||DK Publishing Dorling K|
|Rating||4.8 / 5.0|
4. Black’s Law, 10th Edition
- Provides earliest usage dates
- Includes abbreviations and acronyms
- Checked for accuracy by attorneys
|Publisher||Claitor s Pub Division|
|Rating||4.4 / 5.0|
3. Webster’s New World College
- Covers many americanisms
- Includes many modern terms
- Proper and alternate pronunciations
|Rating||5.0 / 5.0|
2. Merriam-Webster’s Elementary
- Includes terms from new industries
- Section on geographical names
- Word history inserts
|Rating||4.9 / 5.0|
1. American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
- Thousands of color images
- Rich in etymological research
- Easily understood definitions
|Rating||4.6 / 5.0|
The Earliest Known Dictionaries
There is no doubt about it, dictionaries are an ancient invention. Currently, the oldest known bilingual dictionary is the Urra=Hubullu glossary, which dates all the way back to 2300 B.C.E. and was found in what is now modern day Syria. It is a collection of 24 clay tablets written in cuneiform, one of the world’s earliest known writing systems. These lexical lists contain both Sumerian and Akkadian words and were arranged by topic rather than alphabetically, as are most current dictionaries.
In the 4th century B.C.E., Philitas of Cos wrote a tome entitled “Disorderly Words”. It contained a number of rare literary words, including many used by Homer in the Iliad and the Odyssey, as well as technical terms from a variety of Ancient Greek dialects. It is believed to have taken the form of a lexicon, but unfortunately the work has been lost to the ages, so this cannot be confirmed. We only know of its existence because fragments of it have been quoted by later authors.
Depending on how exactly you define what a dictionary is, the oldest surviving monolingual dictionary discovered to date may be the Erya, which was compiled in China sometime between the 4th and 2nd centuries B.C.E., though some of its core material may date back to the 6th century or even earlier. The author of the Erya is unknown and many believe that it is the work of multiple authors rather than a single person. These authors may include the Duke of Zhou, Confucius, and the early Han scholar Shusun Tong.
Some scholars consider the Shizhoupian, another Ancient Chinese reference, as being the earliest surviving monolingual dictionary, as it dates back to 800 B.C.E. Unlike most dictionaries however, it doesn’t include definitions, and is rather a calligraphic collection of Chinese characters. For this reason, the majority of historians don’t consider it a true dictionary.
Benefits Of Hard Copy Dictionaries
With the proliferation of high speed internet these days, it is easy to discount the need for a hard copy dictionary, especially when one considers the amount of information that can be accessed online in a matter of seconds. Because of this, some may be surprised to learn that hard copy dictionaries do actually offer a number of benefits over their online counterparts. Some of these benefits are obvious, such as the lack of need for electricity or the ability to use them during tests where internet-connected electronics are banned. Other benefits may be less obvious, but no less important.
Hard copy dictionaries are complied by teams of linguists, professional lexicographers, and competent researchers. They follow strict formats to ensure the accuracy and usefulness of the information. Depending on which online dictionary you use, this may not be the case, especially when it comes to dictionary apps and those not associated with venerable companies. With a hard copy dictionary, you can rest easy knowing the information contained within is credible.
Some people find that the meaning of a word lasts longer in their memory when they use a hard copy dictionary as opposed to looking it up online. There are number of reasons that could contribute to this. When you spend time looking up a word in a hard copy dictionary, your subconscious may place more importance on the information garnered. You may also be unconsciously preparing your mind to learn and remember the meaning, letting you gain a deeper comprehension of it. In addition, there are often related words above or below the word you are researching that can help you to understand more about it. For example, when looking up the word “globalization”, you may see “global” above it and “globalize” after it, giving you some insight into its root or related concepts and adding to your overall understanding.
Hard copy dictionaries allow you to stay focused on your work better, too. It is not uncommon to get sucked down a rabbit hole of unrelated information when researching something online. In fact, there are numerous resources solely dedicated to teaching people how to stay focused when studying online as opposed to getting distracted by unrelated information, more engaging content, pop-ups, and ads. According to a study performed at the University of California, work fragmentation, as they have called getting distracted by unrelated activities, is very detrimental to your efficiency. Based on their findings, it can take as much as 20 minutes to get back to the same level of focus and efficiency as you had before the interruption.
Dictionary Usage Tips
Using a dictionary isn’t exactly rocket science, but there are a few tips that can help you use it most effectively. One of the most often overlooked aspects of any dictionary is its introduction. After all, most people are looking for specific words when opening a dictionary and don’t want to waste time reading an introduction that has nothing to do with their current needs. This is a mistake, however. Reading the introduction can be extremely helpful for the most efficient use of that particular dictionary. It will explain to you how the entries are arranged, as well teach you about the different abbreviations you may encounter throughout the book.
When searching for a word, it is important to read the guide words at the top of the pages, as opposed to just scanning the pages for the particular word you are looking for. These will help speed up your search so you don’t spend time inspecting the wrong page only to find out you need to flip to the next one.
Once you have found the word you are looking for and read the definition, don’t stop there. Reading the ancillary information can be very helpful to long-term memorization of the word’s meaning. Examine the pronunciation, which will be written using American English phonemes. Next, take a moment to look at the synonyms and antonyms. Then peruse the example sentences that illustrate common ways to use the word. In addition to helping ensure you remember the meaning at a later date, it can also serve as a way to double check that you have correctly comprehended its meaning.