Using a dictionary effectively

Young girl reading a dictionary
Photo: ©

Speak of the word ‘dictionary’ and what comes to our minds first is the image of a voluminous book consisting of thousands of pages with lakhs of informative entries on a wide range of facts and figures that so closely relate to the various domains of homo sapiens. Usually we use dictionaries to look up the meanings, spellings and various features of unfamiliar words. But the usefulness of a dictionary goes far beyond all this.

In fact, using a dictionary effectively is an art, the mastery of which calls for painstaking effort, hard labour and an undying yearning. A dictionary is an ocean of information relating to words. Generally, we use it for learning only the meanings of words. So the gold mine of information, facts and figures, grammar, etc., on learning the language remains unexplored.

Here are some ways to master the art of using the dictionary:

Choosing a standard dictionary is the most important task. As per the latest trends, the dictionaries of Longman, Webster, Oxford and Collins CoBuild are considered to be of standard quality and practical usage.

For the effective and best use of a dictionary, it is very important to read its introduction. This provides us with vital information about how the words in the dictionary have been arranged.

Dictionaries use a particular set of abbreviations. Before using them, it is very important to get acquainted with those acronyms.

We also need to know the various symbols’ pronunciation. These symbols guide us about how to correctly pronounce a particular word.

After finding a particular word in the dictionary, we must take time to learn the following aspects of it:

(a) The most common meaning of the word.
(b) The correct pronunciation of the word.
(c) The type of the part of speech of the word.
(d) The synonyms of the word.
(e) The antonyms of the word.
(f) The origin of the word.
(g) The phrasal verbs and idioms associated with the word.
(h) The foreign word for that particular word.
(i) The usage of the word in various sentences.

Apart from the above information about words, a dictionary is also a unique conglomeration of a diverse nature of facts and figures relating to the history, economy, geography, currencies, cities, capitals, national flags, personalities, events and so other important things about countries across the world.

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Shreeprakash Sharma
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Shreeprakash Sharma

Shreeprakash Sharma is the Principal of Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya, Mamit, Mizoram. He writes articles in Hindi and English for a number of magazines and newspapers, and also contributes to All India Radio (AIR).