Online dictionaries are occasionally lacking in detail or otherwise faulty, so you will need to know how to look up a word in a dictionary. Yes, we are referring to a real-world dictionary which you can hold in your hands.
- Keep a good dictionary near where you study or read. Decide what word you wish to look up. Did you find it in something that you read or hear it in conversation?
- Figure out what letter your target word starts with (i.e. PSYCHOTIC would start with a P; and GNOME would start with a G; and words like KNOCK, KNICKERS and KNOB would naturally begin with a K). For the purposes of this article, we will look up the word FUTILE.
- Open the dictionary so that it lies flat on the table before you. In the upper corners of the pages, notice the ‘GUIDE WORDS‘. Find the section dealing with words beginning with the letter of your target word. If you see guide words beginning with the letter E, then move a few pages forward to the F section.
- Consider the second letter of your target word, in this case, U. You must move along until you find guide words beginning with FU. Perhaps you will see “furrow/futtock” in the upper left corner of the left page and “futtock plate/gaberlunzie” in the upper right corner of the right page. Now you know that FUTILE is going to be located on one of these two pages.
- Scan down the list of entry words moving past FURRY and FUSE and FUSS. Since your word begins with FUT, you must go past all the FUR and all the FUS words alphabetically until you reach the FUT area of the page. In our example, you will need to move right down through FUT and FUTHARK and this is at last, where you will find FUTILE.
- Read the entry word and notice any near neighbors that might be related, such as FUTILITY.
- Read the information given about this word (entry). Depending on your dictionary, you might find many things.
- A definition of the word.
- One or more pronunciations. Look for a pronunciation key near the beginning of the dictionary to help you interpret the written pronunciation.
- Synonyms and antonyms. You can use these in your writing, or as further clues towards the word’s meaning.
- An etymology, derivation, or history of the word. Even if you don’t know Latin or Greek, you may find that this information helps you to remember or understand the word.
- Examples or citations of how the word is used. Use these to add context to the meaning of the word.
- Derived terms and inflections (I am, you are).
- Phrases or idioms associated with the word.
8. Think about how this information relates to the word as you encountered it. If there are multiple definitions, decide which one matches your source or context for the word and notice how the different definitions are related to one another.
9. Try using your new word in a sentence. If it’s difficult to spell, write it a few times to help yourself remember it.
- Dictionaries vary in approach. The best way to learn how to use your particular dictionary effectively is to read the introductory section which explains how entries are arranged in your very own reference book.
- If you can’t seem to locate your word, make sure you are spelling the word right. For example, you won’t find ISOTOPE in the dictionary if you are looking in the A section, which you might be tempted to do if, for example, your chemistry teacher speaks with a bit of a southern accent.
- If you’re having trouble spelling a word, try the spell-checker in a word processor and see what it suggests.
- Don’t forget to check online dictionaries, too. Many now include additional content, such as an audio pronunciation.
- In Google, typing define: futile will search only for definitions.
- It’s okay just to browse in a dictionary, too. Open to any page and skim headwords until you see one that is interesting or unfamiliar.