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How to Use a Dictionary

A dictionary is one of the most valuable tools available for improving your English language skills. Here are some ways to maximize a dictionary's usefulness.


  • Step 1: Practice using alphabet Become adept at navigating through the alphabet. The words in the dictionary are arranged in alphabetical order, so it will be easier to find them if you can quickly recognize alphabetic order.
  • Step 2: Use guide words Note the guide words at the top of the page. These words identify the first and last entries on the page.
  • Step 3: Learn abbreviations Consult the dictionary's front matter for a list of abbreviations and their explanations. Abbreviations may be used for academic fields, stylistic or geographic designations, and etymologies.
  • Step 4: Recognize similar spellings Consult the front matter for a list of spellings that can produce a similar sound if you know the pronunciation of a word, but not the spelling. Then check alternate spellings of the word until you find it.
  • TIP: For example, the sound of k in the word "kick" is identical to the sound of c in "call".
  • Step 5: Identify correct definition Make sure the definition for the word you are looking up matches the context in which the word was used where you saw it. Words in the dictionary may have more than one meaning, so you shouldn't settle for the first one listed.
  • Step 6: Learn pronunciation symbols Consult the dictionary's front matter for a list of pronunciation symbols. Try saying the word after you look at the pronunciation key.
  • FACT: The first English language dictionary was published in 1604.

You Will Need

  • Dictionary
  • Guide words
  • List of abbreviations
  • List of similar spellings
  • Appropriate defintion
  • Pronunciation symbols

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