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

For theologians, those in seminary school, or for the religious person who brings a scholarly bent to his or her practices, a copy of Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words will aid in close scrutiny and understanding of scripture.

  • Has greek and hebrew translations
  • Keyed to james strong’s numbers
  • Somewhat cumbersome to use

Publisher HarperCollins Christian
Weight 3.4 pounds
Rating 4.4 / 5.0

9. Scholastic Children’s

Don’t let the playful cover design of the Scholastic Children’s deceive you: this is a genuinely useful guide for elementary age students who want to improve their grasp of the English language. It features a lot of modern vernacular and very high resolution photos.

  • Includes a ten-page thesaurus
  • Has multiple world maps
  • Missing many common core words

Publisher Scholastic
Weight 4.4 pounds
Rating 3.9 / 5.0

8. Mosby’s Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing & Health Professions

Mosby’s Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing & Health Professions is a one-stop reference for both medical students and those actively working in the industry. In addition to over 50,000 words, it contains helpful information on lab values, symbols, and abbreviations.

  • Reflects modern developments
  • Also suitable for the lay person
  • Photos are too graphic for some

Publisher Elsevier Science Health
Weight 7.1 pounds
Rating 3.9 / 5.0

7. Webster’s New Explorer Large Print

If you struggle to read most other options, then you’ll appreciate Webster’s New Explorer Large Print. Developed in a joint effort with the National Association for Visually Handicapped, it has a very user-friendly format that both the old and young can enjoy.

  • Very concise definitions
  • Lacking some commonly used words
  • Not suitable for college use

Publisher Webster’s New Explorer
Weight 2.5 pounds
Rating 4.1 / 5.0

6. New Oxford American

With over 350,000 words, including many from constantly changing fields, the New Oxford American may be one of the most comprehensive options around. Luckily, it is well organized, making it easy to find the information you are looking for without wasting time.

  • Displays principal meanings first
  • Copies of us national documents
  • Includes access to online references

Publisher New Oxford American
Weight 6.8 pounds
Rating 4.5 / 5.0

5. DK Publishing’s My First

DK Publishing’s My First is an invaluable tool for kids between 4 and 9 years of age. Using a combination of simple, but accurate and easily-relatable, writing and colorful pictures, it helps convey the meaning of words in a way that children can understand.

  • Focuses on commonly used terms
  • Makes learning fun
  • Good choice for new readers

Publisher DK Publishing Dorling K
Weight 1.6 pounds
Rating 4.8 / 5.0

4. Black’s Law, 10th Edition

Whether you are a law student, planning on acting as your own attorney in an upcoming case, or just interested in judicial terms, Black’s Law, 10th Edition should be your go-to choice. It contains more than 50,000 definitions and is the most widely cited legal reference.

  • Provides earliest usage dates
  • Includes abbreviations and acronyms
  • Checked for accuracy by attorneys

Publisher Claitor s Pub Division
Weight 6.2 pounds
Rating 4.4 / 5.0

3. Webster’s New World College

Webster’s New World College has gone through multiple printings since its first publishing in 1953 and is as good a reference today as it was then. As well as being the official choice for the New York Times and Associated Press Stylebook, it clearly conveys word nuances.

  • Covers many americanisms
  • Includes many modern terms
  • Proper and alternate pronunciations

Publisher Websters
Weight 3.9 pounds
Rating 5.0 / 5.0

2. Merriam-Webster’s Elementary

Designed for kids between 8 and 11 years of age, Merriam-Webster’s Elementary is an ideal resource for homes and schools. To make the definitions more engaging, it contains 1,300 quotes from popular children’s literature illustrating word usage.

  • Includes terms from new industries
  • Section on geographical names
  • Word history inserts

Publisher Merriam-Webster’s Eleme
Weight 3.7 pounds
Rating 4.9 / 5.0

1. American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language

For an up-to-date and user-friendly tome featuring every word you need to know, the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language is a wise choice. Expensive, but comprehensive, this book will remain relevant for years.

  • Thousands of color images
  • Rich in etymological research
  • Easily understood definitions

Publisher Houghton Mifflin
Weight 7.9 pounds
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.