Using a Dictionary

Using a Dictionary

How to use a monolingual dictionary for learning a new language:

Your dictionary should not belong to so many years ago. In other words, it’s important to upgrade your dictionary every two or three years to have access to the latest words, phrases, collocations, etc. Furthermore, it is advisable to use different types of dictionaries for different purposes, for example, a dictionary of synonyms and antonyms, a dictionary of collocations, a picture dictionary, a dictionary of English Etymology, and so on.

The first thing you should do with your new dictionary is to study the ‘preface section’ carefully to familiarise yourself with some crucial information about word entries, labels, abbreviations, phonetic symbols for correct pronunciation, etc. because these pieces of information are not shared in all dictionaries.

When you want to look a word up in your dictionary, notice that the words are alphabetically ordered. So, for instance, if you happen to look up the word ‘rattle’, you should pay attention to the ‘Guide Words’, which are located in the upper corner of each page of your dictionary. Guide Words can help you a lot to locate your desired word much easier and faster.

At each word entry, you may find the following information:

  • Definition of the word
  • Phonetic symbols for correct pronunciation
  • Part of Speech: Whether the word is a Noun (N), Verb (V), Adjective (Adj), Adverb (Adv) or Preposition (Prep)
  • Whether the word is Countable (e.g. book) or Uncountable (e.g. money)
  • Plural forms and exceptional pluralisations, e.g. ‘children’ for child and ‘women’ for woman.
  • Possible synonyms or antonyms (if the word has any)
  • Register (whether the word is formal or informal)
  • For verbs (simple past, past participle & gerund forms of the verb) 
  • For verbs (possible phrasal verbs) e.g. ‘Bring about’, which means to cause, or ‘Gulp down’, which means to swallow.
  • Some examples about the word, which are usually italicised  
  • The origin or etymology of the word, which is some extra information about the history of the word (not all dictionaries include this feature).

If  your desired word has multiple meanings, for example, the word ‘gas’, your dictionary usually shows this with a number (1, 2, 3, …) right before each different definition. The first meanings and definitions are usually the most frequent ones. In this situation, you should try to focus on just one of the meanings of the word which is related to its actual context of use.

The last point is all about saving your time by using an electronic version of dictionaries installed on your computer, mobile phone, laptop, tablet PC, etc. because you can simply locate your desired words by typing them in the search box. Some of them are talking dictionaries and you can listen to single words and also entire examples in a natural and clear voice.

Author: Hossein Hariri
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