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Dictionaries: Advice


Which Type of Dictionary?

What's best: a bilingual dictionary or a monolingual (English-English) one? What's the difference between dictionaries for native speakers and those for English learners?

Monolingual and Bilingual Dictionaries

What's the difference?

A monolingual dictionary is an English-English dictionary.

A bilingual dictionary translates between English and another language.


The best language learners use both to their best advantages.


Which should I use for writing?

Many people use both. If you do not know a particular word in English, use a bilingual dictionary first.  However, to use the English word correctly, you may need to look it up in a monolingual (English-English) dictionary.


The advantage of monolingual dictionaries is that they usually provide much more information about the word - for example, if it is formal or informal, positive or negative in attitude, dated or in frequent use today.  Best of all, a monolingual dictionary will often show you how to use the word in a sentence. For example, it might tell you useful collocations (=words that go together) and the grammatical structure that you need to follow.


As, a result, looking up a word in a monolingual dictionary can greatly help your writing even if you already know the meaning of the word.


What about for reading?

For reading, a bilingual dictionary is quicker, but a monolingual dictionary helps you to keep your concentration in English.

English-English (Monolingual) Dictionaries

International (Bilingual) Dictionaries

Dictionary Skills



Native Speaker and English Learner Dictionaries


What's the difference?

Native speaker dictionaries usually just give a definition of a word, whereas monolingual dictionaries for learners of English often provide useful information about how to use a word in speaking and writing.


For example, there may be information about what prepositions you need after the word, or about collocations (words that go together well).  Also, the definitions are in easier English, and you may be given example sentences too.

English-English (Monolingual) Dictionaries

Dictionary Skills




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