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10 Different Types of Dictionaries and Their Functions

Dictionaries are a collection of words in one or several languages. Often, they come arranged in alphabetical order and are included in a sentence fragment checker. For ideographic languages, a dictionary is arranged by stroke or radical.


Dictionaries may include information on usage, definitions, phonetics, etymologies, translations, pronunciations, and good sentence starters. They could also be books of words in a particular language alongside their equivalents in another language – this is sometimes referred to as lexicons.

Here are some interesting facts about the Oxford English Dictionary and the types of Oxford dictionaries:

  • The Oxford English Dictionary has a popular definition for approximately 600,000 words
  • William Chester Minor was the main contributor of quotations found in the Oxford English Dictionary. He was a former United States Army Surgeon
  • Johnson’s dictionary is not the very initial work on the collection of words and their meanings. But, it is credited with the first work that attempted to include every English word with examples and definitions.
  • Before the introduction of the OED (Oxford English Dictionary), Johnson’s Dictionary was the leading. OED was introduced 173 years later.
  • It was in 1988 that the first electronic copy of the dictionary became available
  • ‘Set’ is the word that has the most definitions in the Oxford English Dictionary. But, the word ‘run’ beat this record recently and became the word with the most definitions in the Oxford English Dictionary

The Oxford English Dictionary

Simply known as OED, the Oxford English dictionary is called a descriptive dictionary of no other language than the English language. The publisher is the Oxford University Press.

Function and history

OED is seen as the most popular dictionary in the world by many. This famous book of words traces the English language’s historical development, thereby providing academic researchers and scholars with the detailed resource, and at the same time describes usage in its different variations all over the world.

Work on the Oxford dictionary started in 1857. However, the publishing started in 1884, with the name: A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles; Founded Mainly on the Materials Collected by the Philological Society.

It was not until 1895 that the Oxford English Dictionary was first used as a title (unofficially) on the series’ covers. Then, the full complete dictionary was republished in 1928, in 10 bound volumes.

Dictionaries and Their Functions

types of dictionaries and their functions

Image credit: Shutterstock

From the overview, it appears that dictionaries are limited when it comes to their scope and purpose. This is obvious when you make a distinction between a specialized and general dictionary and want to find out how to choose a best-unabridged dictionary.

The general dictionary is not far away from what should be considered the ideal dictionary – one that makes a representation of the entire lexicon. It is based on the data that commonly assume the form or pattern of a general-purpose body.

The dictionary has several functions:

  • Offers information about the aspects of a language’s lexicon.
  • Offers assistance by providing translations between languages. This type is known as a bi-lingual or pluri-dictionary.
  • The functions that a dictionary performs, on the other hand, could be distinguished based on the perspective or role of the user. In that case;
  • If the user is assuming the role of a writer or speaker, the perspective in question is called onomasiology.
  • If the user is assuming the role of a reader or hearer, the perspective in question is known as semasiology or semasiological perspective.


Types of Dictionaries Explained

General Dictionaries

Each word contained in a general dictionary could have a number of meanings. In some dictionaries, you will find each separate meaning listed according to the order of usage frequency. The dictionary may also have limited synonym for a given word.

On the other hand, other dictionaries will simply list definitions of words based on their historical order, starting with the oldest usage.

Function: As the name suggests, a general dictionary is most suitable when searching for the general meaning of a word, as opposed to a specialized dictionary that focuses on a specific area or field such as medicine or law.

different types of dictionaries

Specialized Dictionaries

The Manual of Specialized Lexicographies defines a specialized dictionary as one that particularly focuses on a specific subject area. This type of dictionary is also called a technical dictionary.

There are three types of a specialized dictionary:

  • A multi-field dictionary: It extensively covers tons of subject areas or fields. A typical example is a business dictionary. Example of a multi-field dictionary is the 23-language Inter-Active Terminology for Europeans.
  • A single-field dictionary: It covers a specific subject area (e.g. law) in a narrow manner. An example of a single-field dictionary is the American National Biography
  • A sub-field dictionary: This one covers a more specialized area or field such as marriage law. An example of a sub-field dictionary is the African American National Biography Project.

A medical dictionary (glossary) for instance is also a typical example of a specialized dictionary.

Function: In essence, a specialized dictionary is most useful when researching specialized areas such as medicine, law, manufacturing, and other specialized fields.

Defining Dictionaries

This is perhaps the simplest type of dictionary. It simply offers the main glossary of the most basic meanings of the simplest ideas or concepts. Subsequently, the explanation of other concepts can emerge.


Function: A defining dictionary is most suitable for people who are starting to learn a language.  The English defining dictionary would usually feature just a meaning or two of not more than 2000 words.

From those, the definition of the rest of English words, including the 4000 popular English Idioms as well as metaphors can be derived.

Online dictionaries

Big thanks to the Inspiration behind the internet, you can now find dictionaries online. The best part is that you can access internet-based dictionaries while on the go with your mobile devices (phone, laptops, and tablets). Online dictionaries are available in English as well as foreign languages.

Other types of dictionaries include:

  • Encyclopedia Dictionary
  • Bilingual Dictionary
  • Phonetic Dictionary
  • Electronic Dictionary
  • Rhyming Dictionary
  • Reverse Dictionary
  • …and more

Popular Business Buzzwords

If you are interested in some professional terms, which are specific for the field you learn or work in, try looking for specialized dictionaries.

For example, if you study business at college, you can search for business-specific dictionaries to find exactly what you need.

For example, below you can find 30 business terms that would be hard to find in common English dictionary. With the following business words, you can relate better to the things that business people are talking about if you encounter these words in your conversations. And our complete sentence checker will help you as well!

Bleeding edge: It means cutting or leading edge.

CSF: It is Critical success factor, be it price, technology, great service, and others

Decruiting: It is the current euphemism for the firing employees.

Deep pyramid: It is the structure of a centralized organization, which consists of numerous layers.

Deliverable: It is a product, outcome, result or output.

Disruptive thinking: It is being innovative.

Do not boil the ocean: It means not to waste resources or time.

Emotional leakage: It is a disappointment or anger that transfers from one individual to another.

Excentralize: It is a trend towards the flatter corporate pyramids.

Eyebrow management: It is a management style of using arm’s length, which the top executive uses to stop the course of action, hinting disapproval

Falling forward: It is a term for risk management in order to learn a process consisting of trying something- a strategy, organizational change or product- and making it a better idea if it does not work

Game changer: it is a step from above

Gatekeeper: It is any department or person that selects or screens.

Hot button: It is the thing that is pushed to get a great response.

Ideation: This word means an ability to think of new, effective ideas.

Informativity: This word means the efficiency degree in which the organization’s detail needs are being handled.

Intrapreneurship: This word refers to creativity and innovation developed within the existing company.

JIT and JIC: It means just in time or just in case.

Let’s speak offline: It is a 1 on 1 or face to face conversation.

MEGO effect: It is the effect to an audience by an inept presenter.

OVA: It stands for overhead value analysis.

Pain points: It means mumbo-jumbo for challenges or problems.

Paradigm shift: The word means something that is revolutionary.

Pushing the envelope: It refers to testing all the boundaries.

Quant: It is a number of women or men.

Quick wins: It means the results that look good and they can be achieved with minimal effort.

Resonance: It is the effect of the idea across an organization

Seamless integration: It means patching things together that no one else will notice.

Synergy: It means a chronically overused buzzword that refers to the cooperative interaction among groups.

Vision statement: It is an explanation of what you want to achieve.

There you have 30 interesting business buzzwords to remember and use in your conversations. Also by the next time that you heard of any of these, you will understand your peers better.

The Glossary of Legal Terms

You can also find a dictionary of legal terms to check yourself in this field.

Legal terms are important, regardless if you’re in the law field or not, as you may encounter these words in one way or another in writing or conversation. Take a look and find out what they mean.

Acquittal: It is an act of deciding that the criminal defendant is not guilty of the crime or it is the verdict of a judge wherein he resolved that the evidence is insufficient in supporting the conviction

Active judge: It is a judge who has a full-time service in the court

Admissible: It is a term that is used in describing that the evidence can be considered by the judge in criminal or civil cases.

Adversary proceeding: It is the lawsuit arises in or it is related to a bankruptcy case that begins through filing a complaint in the court.

Affidavit: It is a printed or written statement that is made under oath.

Affirmed: It means that the court of appeals has concluded that the decision of the lower court is correct.

Alternative dispute resolution: It is the procedure in settling the dispute outside the courtroom.

Amicus curiae: It means friends of the court.

Appeal: It means to make a request.

Appellant: It is a term used to describe a person who appeals a decision from the decree or judicial decision

Appellate: It is having the power to change and review the decisions made by the lower court.

Appellee: It is a person who opposes the appeal of the appellant and seeks to persuade the appeals court in affirming the district court’s decision.

Arraignment: It is to state the charges of the criminal defendant against someone who is being accused of the crime in a formal procedure before the judge.

Assets: It is a term used to state the property of all kinds, which include personal and real, intangible and tangible.

Assume: It is an agreement in continuing the performing duties under a lease or contract.

Automatic stay: It is an injunction that stops lawsuits automatically, garnishments and foreclosures of collection activities against the debtor by the moment that the bankruptcy petition is being filed.

Bail: It is the temporary release of the prisoner in exchange for a security given for the due appearance of the prisoner.

Bench trial: It is a trial without the jury in which the judge serves as the fact finder.

Brief: It is a written statement that is submitted in an appellate or trial proceeding explaining one side of factual or legal arguments.

Burden of proof: The duty of proving a disputed charge or assertion

Certiorari: It is the order of the court to review the proceedings and decision in the lower court.

Conviction: It is a judgment of guilt against the criminal defendant.

De facto: It means actually or in fact

Deed: It is the written legal document describing a piece of property outlining its boundaries.

Evidence: It is the information presented in documents or testimony, which are used in persuading the jury or judge to decide a case in favor of the defendant or complainant.

Immunity: It is the exemption from penalty or legal duty.

Indictment: It is an official written statement that charges a person with a crime.

Information: It is a formal accusation by the government attorney that the person (defendant) committed a misdemeanor

Judgment: It is the official decision of the court that finally resolves the dispute between parties of a lawsuit.

Litigation: It is a lawsuit, controversy or case.

There you have the legal terms to know whether you are a law practitioner or student in the field. This list could be really useful during writing a paper of some letter.
Still, to recheck yourself, feel free to give a try to online spellchecker free and get a perfect paper in seconds 🙂

Use online spelling checker to correct your word choice ⇣