What dictionaries you use?

Hi everybody,

I thought it might be interesting to ask what dictionaries you use. Do you have any favourite monolingual English dictionary? How many of you use native language - English dictionaries? What about English - native language ones?

I use since qiute a long time Collins Family English Dictionary
and my edition is without fonetic transcription just English to English.
Native language to English is very useful of course ,but with time creates also a lot of confusion.
You actually would be stopping yourself trying to match some words and not everytime we really are going to need it.It is better sometimes to learn just a little like by heart the way to express your
We have certainly many good dictionaries but for me it is important just one thing in any dictionary.
All words had to be included, better or worse but they can’t be missing.
I can’t stand a situation when reading something, I can’t
translate literal everything with one dictionary.
I don’t believe in the theory that to function between people it is enough
to know 5000 words or 2500 words or some other number.
I am now quite sure that all words in the sentence need to be translated because a meaning may be changed easy just with one unknown word.


Oh, yes

My rather old English Vocabulary in use (Cambridge University Press) at the second page tells:

  • there are more than 500,000 words in English (recently I’ve posted the link that now it’s about a million);

  • the average English native speaker use in his/her everyday speech ~ 5,000 words (this means that a great number of those people who use much more than 5,000 live elsewhere, far from me and from people I hear around every day :slight_smile: );

  • Winston Churchill was famous for his particularly large vocabulary in his writing ~ 60,000; (Hmm…)

  • 50 (!!!) English words make up 45% (!!!) of everything written in English.

“To sum up, there are many words you don’t need at all and there are other words that you simply need to understand when you read them. Finally, there are words which you need to be able to use yourself.” ©


I think, a million words is quite a lot and I wonder whether in this row buzzwords and informal words were included.

If you have a range of 5000 words (what a lot) with all his variations ( take the verb “to get” with all its possibolities, for instance) you probably are capable to express every situation that will happen to you and around you. Of course the words depend on your personality and interests and the more different your relations and aquintances are for so more you have to raise up your range of language.

I myself, don?t even know how much words I use in my mothertongue but I were happy if I had a range of nearly thousand words in English (including all their variations). Using this site, it often happens to me that I read some usually words I don?t know and which I must look for translation into my “Schoeffler-Weis” dictionary from 1977 with its about 1154 sides full of translations, explanations of words, terms and idioms and also the conjugations, usage with prepositions and so on and so on… :shock: And that is the formal English only. But when I have all its explanations in my mind (may be that happens in say 100 years), I?ll allow you to call me “Expert” :lol: And then I?ll start to compare all my knowledges with the English in 2106. :wink:

Might be that “Slubberdegullian Druggel” will be up to date again.


Hi Tamara,
I know what you mean but this is maybe an old school,
I thought like this at least 15 years ago.
People if they use 5000 words they are qiute familar with 25000 or words, believe me they wouldn’t use them to often but they easy may mix them into sentence and jeopardize entire 5000 words theory.
People with some education use more or less 5 thousands words but many times not the same 5 thousands they may also easy go in some strange for us vocabulary, and you wouldn’t be able to follow .
This is impossible to say how many from 200000 words
( I believe so much is neseccery to master on a profesional writer level) know good educated in “arts” not in "tech."people.
But to use 5000 in a comfortable way you need stronger fundament something at least like (20000 just ready for action in any time)
I thought myself, how it is possible that me knowing in some time of my learning process much more above ten thousands words in German still was lost in normal conversation???
It has been clarifed with time.
More you know of language then more often you would relize ,how almost everything could be important.
If you remove one tune from a bird song , you wouldn’t hear any difference but birds recognize it instantly.
If somebody almost perfect in Russion start to speak wrong ends of words you would be lost for about meaning.
When I listen to somebody I expect soon something new (new for me) , and if I would be out of game again or may be I manage to carry on safe further.
Sometimes everything easy just like in a dream but often it is not matched to a context and words and sentences are lost.
Reading is even more fun because to know a language means for me to be able to read any book ,and it means in practice just to know vocabulary of a book.
Words are often related and even if you don’t know some of them you may still guess a lot of a meaning from some similar words.

Problem is that a meaning is clear for you but is often just not correct.

At the beginning words are very “formal” you know to little about how they work in sentence.They are not ready in mind to say they are still to much unfamilar.
It is some handicap for us and the reason why even after knowing a meaning of something like 5000 words we still use not more then 500 from them.
Natives have much more better propotions but they definitly have also two groups of vocabularies active and passive.
Every day we change words or exchange them having some from passive to active and opposite.
For me,I think It is a propotion like 1:10, I need ten words to learn to use just one of them correctly.
Million of words in English is pure because of technical terms.

Hi Jan!

Your theorie is interesting but what makes me wondering (thinking myself) is: Have you ever considered the amount of different words that you use in just one post?

I mean, as I?ve read most of your posts at this forum I know that you often write long letters about different themes and find lots of different words to describe situations or events or what ever. Of course, some words concerning the theme will be repeated often in one post but I noticed while counting the words of one sentence I was surprised how much words one use to built a sentence.

Actually, the matter for my counting the words of one sentence was a topic written by Alan ([color=green]Finish that story). Alan opened a story about cats (means he gave the first sentence) and requested the users to complete the story with not more than 100 words. So I made myself the effort to count the words in Alan?s opening sentence and found out that he used 25 words to explain the situation. And there wasn?t one word used twice, was it? Sure, In the following 100 words there must be some words used more often. But I guess that more than the half of the used words in that story were used only once. So that you probably must use more than 60-70 different words to complete the story. Just a story about a dead cat! And I wonder how much different situations of life we are always talking about.


I generally use the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, the Oxford American Dictionary (because it came with my computer), Webster’s New World College Dictionary, and a Random House unabridged dictionary.

I also keep at least three other dictionaries that are useful.

I use the Concise Oxford Dictionary, which is British, when one of my ESL students claims some word, pronunciation or usage is “British English” and I don’t believe him. (Students very often claim their mistakes are “British Engilsh”, and this dictionary helps me prove them wrong.)

I keep an old unabridged dictionary around from the early part of the 20th century, so that I can get a handle on older usages.

I use a dictionary of Indian English to help me read the Indian press, and I keep a dictionary of Caribbean English just for fun.

One thing I don’t like about American dictionaries is that they still stubbornly refuse to adopt IPA, and each often has its own system of phonetic writing. The one in my computer is nice, because it allows me to switch between IPA and the American system.

I count my vocabulary in many different ways.
For example how many words do I need to translate on one
random book page.
Some list of words attached to exercises are with a mark like the most common , the most freuqently use etc…
If I go through all of them and mark the unknown then I get as well some number.
My vocabulary what I used vary so much between days then it is really impossible to judge how many of used by me words are known , and how many just dropped accidently.
The entire vocabulary could be divided according to their frequency in use.
2000 to 5000 from the most common words are known pretty fast,but it is still hard to make your way through the conversation, why ??
maybe because their are regular mixed with some specific phrases
and their meanings vary so much in different contexts.
It is one of reasons why natural languages are hard for studying , they are to “wild”.
Your feelings may be described longer or shorter way,
if you know correct words, you may speak more effective about what you mean ,but to know correct words means to count in mind something like underway to them many many others which are worse option in a situation.You acctualy are much more pricise when your basic is much more solid.More words in total less words needy to express yourself.


Just let me emphasize again, that your (our) skills, language level and the true proficiency in language are defined not only the amount (the number) of
‘completely different’ (by meaning) words (that allows you to call different colours or different functions, for example,
but by the number of synonyms and the number of words we can really use to express subtle shades.

I permanently keep and maintain my own (computerised) dictionary of synonyms. When I come across a new word that is interesting for me I put in my dictionary and make attempt - sometimes funny and stupid :slight_smile: - to put it in everyday life and active using.

Examples of my own (current) lists are:

walk, pace, stroll, stray, wander, roam, stride, stagger, stumble, prowl, (hobble, lurch ,tott, blunder),…

(nimble, agile, spry, adroit, dexterous, quick, swift, expeditious),
(keen, sharp, astute, shrewd), (sly, devious)…

huge, gigantic, mammoth, prodigious, immense, massive, bulk, cumbersome…

arrogant, haughty, lofty, pompous, disdain, despise, looking down with scorn…


Is anyone of you familiar with the Oxford English Dictionary (OED)? What about the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (SOED)? If yes, do you find these dictionaries helpful? The OED is supposed to include next to all words that exist or have existed in the English language. Wouldn’t it be more convenient to just use the OED for all your needs than to switch between many smaller dictionaries (one for medical English, one for South African English, etc.)?

They’re very helpful when looking for etymology and historical usage. They’re inefficient for daily use.

You mean it’s supposed to include almost all, or nearly all. The expression “next to” can’t be used in that way in English.

Anyway, there are plenty of words that escape the compilers of the OED, because they’re too local.

Well, let’s see. The print edition of the Oxford English Dictionary has about 20 volumes and costs $1,500.00. Every entry gives you far more information than you probably need for daily use. On CD-ROM, the dictionary costs almost $300.00, it only works with the Windows operating system, and you never know when an operating system upgrade will make it unusable. The shorter OED costs about $150 in print.

These dictionaries are not meant for or efficient enough for ordinary, everyday dictionary consultation.


You wrote:

According to the Oxford Dictionary of English ‘next to’ has the following meanings: a. very nearly, almost; b. by the side, beside, in comparison with.

Yes, so does my dictionary here. The problem is that you misused it. Next to in this sense has very limited collocational possibilities, and it’s generally limited to preceding the words nothing and impossible.

You can say, “It’s next to impossible to do that,” or, “He earns next to nothing.” It is ungrammatical to say, “It contains next to all the words…”


You wrote:

How can you be so sure that it is ungrammatical to say “It contains next to all words”? In the OED there is no mention about ‘next to’ being limited to preceding the words nothing and impossible.

I can be so sure for various reasons:

  1. I’m a native speaker.

  2. Your usage of it made my fillings zing.

  3. The dictionaries all have basically the same examples, almost all involving the words nothing or impossible, or a very few other words:

The Oxford Concise Dictionary: [color=red]“next to nothing”
The Oxford American Dictionary: [color=red]“Charles knew next to nothing about farming.”
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary: [color=red]“it was next to impossible to see in the fog”
Dictionary.com: [color=red]“next to impossible”
The American Heritage Dictionary: [color=red]“next to impossible”
The Encarta World English Dictionary: [color=red]“I have spent many days trying to figure out a good alternative, and it’s next to impossible.”
The Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary: [color=red]“They pay me next to nothing (= very little) but I really enjoy the work.
It’s next to impossible (= extremely difficult) to find somewhere cheap to live in the city centre.
We got home in next to no time (= very little time).”
Collins: [color=red]“next to impossible”

The compilers of the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English apparently consider the usage so restricted that they list it all as fixed phrases:

I think that’s indicative enough of what usage is permissible. Dictionaries can mainly give the usages that are possible. If they tried to list the usages that are impossible, they’d never get finished.

This is exactly what I mean,fight a bloody anihilation war,
total engagement , no prisons, no mercy…
I like it …
Englishuser I encourage You to stand up,it is surely possible to find some amunition, even in that case.
Don’t give up !
At least I would remember something because,believe me
in my age, without some confrontation is hard to find any motivation.
Your Faithfully
Provocator Jan

Jan, I don’t think she’s going to be able to find ammunition in this particular case. I searched all over to find evidence that I was wrong about her usage of next to, and I couldn’t find any. I did find a few cases where people used “next to” to mean “besides”, but they were Russians, not native English speakers.

“Next to” in the sense of “almost” can primarily be used with limited choices but not with wide choices. So, “next to nothing” is possible, “next to nobody” is possible, “next to no time” is possible, and so is “next to last”, but “next to all” and “next to everything” are ungrammatical if “next to” is supposed to mean “almost”.

Jamie(K), your list of examples is really impressive and useful for the non-native speakers of this forum. Do you(I mean all the members of this thread) know any English-Russian or Russian-English phraseological dictionary online? Perhaps Tamara can give some information for me :smiley:

Hi Jamie,

I don’t think that ammunition is needed, either, because we all make mistakes. However, when searching “next to all” on Google I find that ‘next to all’ gives me 382,000 matches. Some of the pages are certainly written by non-native speakers of English, but not all of them. Of course native speakers make mistakes, too, which makes it all more complicated. I suppose this needs further investigation, and it’s also proper to ask ourselves: What is grammatical English? Who decides about when a construction is grammatically correct or simply a dialectal, regional, or other variant of the language? There is no institution with the authority to decide about correct and incorrect English.

Hi Pamela

As I have paper-based Russian-English/English-Russian dictionaries that are quite suitable for my current level :), I rarely use online ones (only to translate a few words quickly when I’m NOT at home. By using ABBYY Lingvo multitran.ru/ that provides ‘phrase search’, as well.

(That’s obvious that sites like translate.ru are useless for phrases.)

You can take a look, for example, at akmwest.ru/dictionary-ru.html (for Russian speakers), maybe you’ll succeed in finding what you want - among dozens of all those universal, specialized, terminological and very-very specific dialect dictionaries - for lots of languages.
Imagine, they promise even such ones as ‘Common words and phrases in lenape (delaware)’ , ‘Mayanga-spanish-miskitu dictionary (cidca 1995)’ and ‘Japanese-english sumo glossary’ :smiley:

(I didn’t check whether all links from their list are still ‘alive’).