What to Expect in a Decent Dictionary (Part 1)


Image courtesy of Chris Dlugosz via Flickr (CC 2.0)


A decent dictionary, be it printed or electronic, can be an invaluable tool when trying to improve your English. Sadly, not many language learners exploit it to the full.


So, what can you typically expect to find in one?


  1. The meaning(s) of an English word or phrase

Most words in the English language have more than one meaning, and dictionaries usually list them out.


run (verb)

  • to move quickly using legs
  • to manage a business
  • to use a computer program
  • (of liquid) to flow in a particular direction
  • to try to get elected to a job
  • to drive somebody to a place


  1. Part of speech

This refers to one of the grammatical groups that a word belongs to depending on how it is used in a sentence. Remember, a word could have different forms.


drive – verb (= when used to talk about operating a vehicle)

drive – noun (= when used to talk about someone’s energy or desire to do something)


  1. Pronunciation

The phonetic transcription of a word usually appears alongside it to help users pronounce the word accurately. Alternate ways of pronouncing the word can also be found in some dictionaries.



Word Pronunciation

(British English)


(North American English)

restaurant /ˈrestrɒnt/ /ˈrestrɑːnt/
sure /ʃʊə(r)/ or /ʃɔː(r)/ /ʃʊr/


  1. Verb forms

Most verbs in English have between 3 and 5 forms; knowing them is essential to be able to make different grammatical structures.



Present simple

I / we / you / they

Present simple

he / she / it

Past simple Past participle -ing form
cut cuts cut cut cutting
dance dances danced danced dancing
eat eats ate eaten eating


  1. Other grammatical information

A comprehensive dictionary may also contain other important information, such as the plural form of a noun, or whether a noun is countable or uncountable.


thief (singular) – thieves (plural)

furniture (uncountable)


If you’ve just started learning English, using a dictionary regularly can help stretch your limited vocabulary, so be sure to use one.




Form : adjective
Meaning : of good enough quality
Example : Is there a restaurant nearby where I can get a decent meal?


Form : verb
Meaning : to use something well in order to get benefit from it
Example : I don’t think students exploit the study resources in our library enough.


to the full
Form : phrase
Meaning : to the maximum
Example : Youngsters usually want to enjoy life to the full.


Form : adjective
Meaning : including many details
Example : He’s writing a comprehensive guide to tourism in Asia.


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