Glossary of Dictionary Terms

On this page, you can find an alphabetical list of words that you may come across when using dictionaries, or hear when people talk about dictionaries. Click on a letter to jump to the relevant section of the alphabet.

  • A
    • abbreviation a short form of a word or phrase, for example: tbc = to be confirmed; CIA = the Central Intelligence Agency
    • antonym a word that means the opposite of another word
  • C
    • collocation/collocate a word that is often used with another word
    • compound a combination of two or more words that is used as a single word. The three different types of compound are noun compound, adjective compound and verb compound.
    • concordance a list of the words used in a text or group of texts. The normal way of consulting a corpus is to look at concordances which show words in the context in which they occur.
    • consonant a speech sound made by stopping all or some of the air going out of your mouth
    • corpus (corpora or corpuses) a collection of written and/or spoken language stored on a computer or on the Internet, and used for language research and writing dictionaries
    • countable a countable noun is a noun that has a plural and can be used after a or an when it is singular
  • D
    • defining vocabulary the words that are used to explain the meanings of words in a dictionary
    • definition a statement of what a word or expression means
    • derivative a word that is formed from another word, for example an adverb that is formed from an adjective by adding -ly
    • diphthong a sound consisting of one or two vowels that is the combination of two sounds said one after the other
    • discourse written or spoken language, especially when it is studied in order to understand how people use language
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  • E
    • entry one of the short sections into which a dictionary is divided. An entry explains the meaning or meanings of a word or expression.
    • example a phrase or sentence in a dictionary entry that shows how a word or expression is used. It usually follows the definition.
  • F
    • frequency the number of times that a word or expression occurs, for example in a corpus of English
    • frequency star a that indicates how frequently a word or expression occurs in English
  • G
    • grammar code a label such as ‘I/T’ or ‘usually plural’ that shows you how a word normally behaves grammatically
    • guide words in a paper dictionary, the two words at the top of a dictionary page that show the first and last words on that page
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  • H
    • headword one of the list of words in a dictionary, that is followed by an explanation of what it means
    • homograph a word that is spelled the same as another word but has a different part of speech, and is therefore explained in a separate entry
  • I
    • idiom an expression whose meaning is different from the meaning of the individual words
    • International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) a system of symbols used to represent speech sounds
    • intransitive a word describing a verb that has no direct object
  • L
    • lexicography the job or skill of writing dictionaries
    • lexicographer someone whose job is to look at what words mean and how they are used, and to use this information to write entries for a dictionary
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  • M
    • meaning the thing, action, feeling, idea etc that a word or words represent
    • menu box a box at the beginning of a long dictionary entry showing a summary of that word’s different meanings
    • menu definitions the short definitions used in the menu boxes
    • metaphor a word or phrase that means one thing and is used for referring to another thing in order to emphasize their similar qualities
  • P
    • past participle the form of a verb used to make perfect tenses and passive forms of verbs
    • past simple the form of a verb used to express what existed or happened in the past
    • phrasal verb a verb formed from two or (sometimes three) parts: a verb and an adverb or preposition
    • phrase a group of words that are used together in a fixed expression
    • polysemous a polysemous word has more than one meaning
    • pragmatics the study of how people use language
    • prefix a group of letters that is added to the beginning of a word to change its meaning
  • R
    • red word a word that is shown in red in the Macmillan English Dictionary and which is one of the 7,500 most frequent words of the language
    • regional label a label such as ‘Am E’ or ‘South African’ that shows you which part of the English-speaking world a word is used in
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  • S
    • semantics the study of words and their meanings
    • sense a separate meaning of a word or phrase. Entries for words that have more than one meaning are divided into senses.
    • stress mark a mark that shows which part of a word is pronounced with more emphasis
    • subject labels labels that show that a word is used as part of a language of a particular subject and is not used in normal everyday English
    • style and attitude labels labels such as ‘formal’, ‘spoken’, or ‘impolite’ that show that a word is normally used when someone is writing or speaking in a particular style, or showing a particular attitude
    • subsense a meaning that is very closely related to another meaning, and is therefore shown in the same sense as it
    • suffix a group of letters added to the end of a word to make a different word
    • syllable a word or part of a word that has only one vowel sound
    • synonym a word that has the same meaning as another word
  • T
    • thesaurus a book or a list that contains words that have similar meanings
    • transitive a word describing a verb that is always used with a direct object
  • U
    • uncountable an uncountable noun has no plural form and cannot be counted in individual units
    • usage note a note at the beginning or end of an entry that gives information on the way words are used by people when they speak or write their language
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  • V
    • vowel a sound that you make when you speak without closing your mouth or throat
  • W
    • word class/part of speech one of the main grammatical groups that a particular word belongs to according to the way it is used in a sentence, for example noun, verb, adjective, or adverb
    • World English Corpus a 200 million-word corpus of real-life modern written and spoken English

 

  • RT @janesolomon: I'm a total fangirl of @MacDictionary. Here's a great piece on some notable words of 2016 from Michael Rundell. https://t.…

    Retweet Reply Favorite (about 13 hours ago)
  • @markgholloway Many thanks – I'll pass your comments on to Michael.

    Retweet Reply Favorite (about 16 hours ago)

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