The English dictionary is a book that contains a collection of words in alphabetical order. A definition, the history of the word and pronunciation guideline accompany each word. Dictionaries are available in single or multi book volumes, software or online.

An English language dictionary, combined with corresponding words in another language, is known as a bilingual dictionary.

A dictionary can be known as a “lexicon” and dictionary creators as lexicographers.

Dictionaries have three primary characteristics:

• It is intended for one or more functions
• The data included is meant to comply with those functions
• The data relationship is structured in such a way as to achieve the purpose of the dictionary while enabling users to satisfy their requirements.

Headwords are in undeclined or unconjugated configurations.


While dictionaries in various languages are known to have existed in approximately 2300 BCE, the first dictionary devoted entirely to the English language was written by Robert Cawdrey in 1604. One copy remains extant in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. The A Table Alphabeticall was criticized, however, as unreliable and incomplete.

In 1755 it A Dictionary of the English Language, written by Samuel Johnson, was deemed a masterpiece with textual references and words catalogued alphabetically. This dictionary was the English language exemplar until Oxford University Press began release of the Oxford English Dictionary in 1884 in installments until the completion of the project comprising of 12 volumes in 1928. The Oxford English Dictionary is still today considered the authority of English Language dictionaries.

Notable English Dictionaries

A Dictionary of the English Language, by Samuel Johnson, was published on April 15, 1755. It was not the first dictionary published in England, but is considered one of the most influential. Johnson dedicated nine years to this project and also produced numerous revised editions.

Black’s Law Dictionary, founded by Henry Campbell Black, was first published in 1891. The eighth edition was published in 2004. This is the most referenced law dictionary in the United States. Black’s Law Dictionary has been the basis for development of law dictionaries in several languages.

The Canadian Oxford Dictionary was published originally in 1998 by Oxford University Press Canada.The second edition, with 300,000 entries, including Canadianisms, Canadian pronunciation and spelling, was published in 2004. Canadian governments, newspapers and publishing houses utilize it as their standard.

The Concise Oxford English Dictionary began as a smaller version of the Oxford English Dictionary in 1911.The eleventh edition, revised in 2006, has 1,681 pages with 240,000 entries and is available in an eBook format.

The Macquarie Dictionary is devoted primarily to Australian English and, secondarily, New Zealand English. It was first published in 1981 and is now the standard dictionary of schools, businesses and courts. It includes comprehensive encyclopedia content and proper names.

The New Oxford American Dictionary is a compilation of North American English, based on the New Oxford Dictionary of English, with the current edition containing in excess of 250,000 definitions. Apple’s Mac and Amazon Kindle both use the New Oxford American Dictionary.

The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged was originally an American dictionary published in 1966 and renamed Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary after a court ruling the name “Webster” was allowed to be included in the title. Different variations of this dictionary have been published under other names.

Noah Webster’s An American Diction of the English Dictionary was published in 1828, after 27 years of work. Noah Webster learned 26 languages while compiling his dictionary. Webster was a spelling reformer who revolutionized British English into American English.

Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language has no connection with Noah Webster, in spite of the reference to his name in the title. First published in 1953, it was reputed to be the largest American dictionary. It is noted for its extensive etymology. The Associated Press and New York Times use the college edition as their official dictionary.

The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia, an encyclopedia dictionary first published from 1889 to 1991, consisted of 7,046 pages with 10,000 wood-engrave illustrations and was based on Noah Webster’s American Dictionary edition of 1841. The Century Dictionary was the basis for several dictionaries in later years.

Dictionary Resources on the Internet

1. Canadian Oxford Dictionaries
2. English Dictionary Set of several English dictionaries by
3. Random House Dictionaries Official Site.
4. Official site of Black's Law Dictionary
5. Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913)
6. The Concise Oxford English Dictionary
7. Dicionario Aurelio

Internal Links

See also: Larousse Dictionary


Based on Dictionary article by Wikipedia