This page contains a list of labels, abbreviations, and symbols that are used in our dictionaries.
[C] countable nouns that are used with a or an or a number and have a plural: car, soldier
[U] uncountable nouns that cannot be used with a or an or a number and have no plural: happiness, pasta
[singular] nouns that are used with a, an, or the but are never used in the plural: babble, halt
[plural] nouns that are used only in the plural and always take a plural verb: cattle, surroundings
[often plural][usually plural] nouns that can be used in the singular but are often or usually plural: boundary, fee
[I] intransitive verbs that have no direct object: He paused for a moment. | Could you speak up, please?
[T] transitive verbs that have a direct object: I ate my lunch. | She handed the note over to me.
[linking verb] verbs that are followed by a noun or adjective complement describing the subject:
They looked happy. | I feel better now.
[auxiliary verb] the verbs be, have, and do when they are used with other verbs to show their tense, etc:
When are you leaving? | They didn’t understand.
[modal verb] verbs that are used with another verb to express ideas such as possibility, permission, or intention:
She might come. | He can go now. I will ask him to call you.
[only before noun] adjectives that can only be used before a noun: my elder sister
[never before noun] adjectives that can never be used before a noun: I felt afraid.
sb = someone | sth = something
+ that – can be followed by a clause beginning with that: The notice stated that there would be no performance that evening.
+ (that) – can be followed by a clause beginning with that but you can miss out the that: Are you certain that it’s finished? or Are you certain it’s finished?
. . .to do sth – often followed by a verb in the infinitive: I love to go shopping.
. . .doing sth – often followed by a verb + ing: Try keeping your eyes open under water.
[usually passive] usually used in the passive
[usually progressive] usually used in the progressive
[in imperative] usually used in the imperative
[in infinitive] usually used in the infinitive
[in negatives or questions] usually used in in negative sentences or questions
→ points to another entry that you should look at for more information
♦ comes between example sentences
= comes before synonyms
≠ comes before opposites
The words printed in red form the core vocabulary of English. These are the words that – as an advanced learner – you need to know especially well. There are 7,500 red words, and they have been carefully chosen on the basis of their frequency and their importance. For these red words, the dictionary provides a lot of extra information (for example, about grammar and collocation) and a wide range of example sentences. This is designed to help you not only to understand these words, but also to use them confidently and correctly.
All red words have a ‘star rating’:
★★★ the 2,500 most common and basic English words, such as easy, go, have, house
★★ very common words, such as behave, frighten, intelligence, occasional
★ fairly common words, such as boil, cruelty, farming, metric
The following part of speech labels are used in our dictionaries:
short form (for example gonna=going to)
- formal – in current use but not used in ordinary conversation or in normal everyday writing: aegis, remonstrate, remuneration, accede, perpetrate
- humorous – used in an ironic and often friendly way: ill-gotten gains, rascal (used to a child).
- impolite – not taboo but will certainly offend some people
- informal – more common in speech than in writing and not used on formal occasions: guy, bloke, go broke, gutsy, crack up, cop
- literary – old but still used in some kinds of creative writing: behold, jocund, perfidious
- offensive – extremely rude and likely to cause offence
- old-fashioned – no longer in current use but still used by some older people: A-1 (= very good), gramophone (=record player)
- showing approval – used when it is not obvious from a definition that a word says something good about someone or something: fearless, tireless
- showing disapproval – used when it is not obvious from a definition that a word says something bad about someone or something: babyish, self-satisfied
- spoken – used in speech rather than writing: believe it or not, after you, I bet
- very formal – not very common. People who use these words often seem to be trying to be more intelligent and important than they really are: ameliorate, asperity, abjure
- very informal – used only in very informal situations and mainly among people who know each other well: go ape, journo
These labels show that a word is used as part of the language of a particular subject and is not used in normal everyday English:
British – used in British English but not in American English
American – used in American English but not in British English
mainly American – more common in American English but also used in British English
mainly British – more common in British English but also used in American English
Australian, Canadian, Caribbean, East African, Indian, Irish, New Zealand, Scottish, South African, Welsh