Last updated: 16/10/2022

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The dictionary is a fundamental part of language teaching and a great dissipator of linguistic doubts, which is why it is widely used in schools, universities and other places. It can help us improve our lexicon to better adapt to any environment.

We all know its benefits, but the time has come to take action and tell you what features you should take into account to choose a model adapted to your needs, and which are the most outstanding options on the market today. Let’s get to work!


  • Dictionaries are works in which you can consult various terms and words to find out their meaning, phonetic spelling (pronunciation), gender, examples of usage and the like. There are several models that can be adapted to your needs.
  • When searching for your dictionary, you will be able to find models with hard cover and soft cover. This will directly influence their cost, flexibility, portability, most common spaces of use and other factors.
  • It is important to consider certain factors before choosing your ideal dictionary. Pay attention to the linguistic scope or languages covered, the user who will use it constantly, the size of your model, whether or not there are graphics and colours, and the possibility of finding specialised editions.

The best dictionary: Our picks

Buying guide: What you need to know about dictionaries

Dictionaries are very useful tools for finding out the meaning of words and clearing up any doubts about them, and here we show you the 7 most popular models currently in demand. Now it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty and tell you all about this product.

Large dictionaries will be more comfortable to read thanks to their large print, but they can be more complicated to transport and store. (Photo: libellule789 /

What is a dictionary and what are its advantages?

Dictionaries are books created especially for the consultation of alphabetically ordered terms. In addition to their meaning, they may include other information such as synonyms, antonyms, gender, pronunciation (phonetic spelling), translations and examples of use; depending on the type of dictionary you own.

There are many different types of dictionaries, and each of them will be able to help you in different occasions and contexts. For this reason, it is possibly one of the most widely used books worldwide in schools and other educational institutions, such as universities, language centres and more.

The possibility to consult the meaning of a term quickly and easily is already a reason to buy it, but the advantages go beyond that. Here is a list of the benefits of having these editions in your home, office or school.

  • Allows quick reference
  • Easy to use
  • Compact sizes for transport
  • Specialised models for different subjects
  • Economical
  • Some models are very large and heavy
  • Can deteriorate over time

Hard- or soft-bound dictionaries – what should you pay attention to?

Dictionaries can come in 2 formats, depending on the characteristics of their binding: hardback or softback. Each of them will be useful on different occasions and have very particular characteristics.

Hard cover. Hardcover dictionaries tend to be more durable over time, as this cover protects them from bending, creasing and other damage caused by external agents. This also makes them heavier, which is why they are recommended for use mainly in libraries and home spaces.

These models are not very flexible, which can make them uncomfortable to use, especially in the hands of children. They can also be uncomfortable to carry, due to their weight and poor adaptability to bags or backpacks.

Soft cover. Soft cover dictionaries are the most common and cheapest to find, thanks to their practicality to use in different spaces and to transport them from one place to another. They are highly flexible, depending on their thickness.

They are usually resistant, but much will depend on the type of use, care and environmental conditions to which they are exposed. As for its weight, its lightness makes it the best option for children to carry it to and from school without it being too heavy.

Hardcover Softcover
Weight Heavy Lightweight
Portability More awkward to carry Comfortable to carry
Durability Very durable Resistant, depending on use and care
Flexibility Not flexible Medium or high, depending on thickness

What is the difference between digital and physical dictionaries?

Although for a while physical dictionaries were the norm and the only option available to look up the meaning of a word, nowadays we can find digital options that provide us with another consultation experience. Here we tell you a little about each.

Physical dictionaries. This is the traditional dictionary model. It is elaborated and bound like any other book, and in its pages you will find the terms organised in alphabetical order. Depending on its size, you can carry it easily or place it in a fixed location for occasional use.

Their cost is usually a little higher due to printing and distribution costs, but does not really vary by much. These formats do not need to rely on an electronic device to function, but can be accessed when needed.

Digital dictionaries. These options are ideal for laboratory or personal computer use. In some cases they will allow you to review all the words included, while in others only the term consulted will be displayed. In some cases, it may provide suggestions for similar or differently spelled terms.

They tend to be adaptable to any computer and mobile device, so you can access it when you turn on your device. They tend to cost a little less and, in some cases, can be updated to the latest editorial version.

Physical Digital
Alphabetical word review Possible Not often
Search Manual Automated
Term suggestion No Yes
Portability Size dependent Adapts to any device
Cost Higher Lower
Need for a host device No Yes
Upgrade No Yes

Purchasing Criteria

Dictionaries are extremely useful, but it is important to know certain aspects before choosing them, as this will determine their usefulness and their possibility of accompanying us in our consultations for years and years to come. Take these facts into account.

  • Language
  • User
  • Size
  • Graphics
  • Special editions


Basically, a dictionary will help us to consult information about a specific word or term, but there are versions that include a second language. Here we explain their uses and particularities.

Monolingual. In general, dictionaries with conceptual definitions are usually monolingual, which means that they are written in only one language (Spanish, in this case). They do not contain equivalents of the words or terms in another language, so they are usually only used to look up meanings.

Bilingual. Bilingual dictionaries do not show extensive definitions, but equivalences of words in other languages. They have a base language and a second language, and are divided for searching words in either of these 2 languages. You can find them in Spanish with equivalents in English, French, Portuguese and many others.


Depending on the type of user that is going to use the dictionary, it will be good to make certain provisions and selections to ensure a full experience. In this case, we will divide it between child and adult use.

Children. Dictionaries for children’s use should have certain features aimed at their comfort and learning. In terms of content, it is recommended that they have colours, illustrations and graphics, as well as large print for practical reading.

It is also important that its size is limited, so that they can use and transport it without much discomfort. As for its cover, hard covers will guarantee a long life, but soft covers will make it easier to carry and more comfortable to use.

Adults. In the case of adults, it is possible to purchase a larger model to ensure a more comfortable reading experience, although for travel, it is better to look for a pocket-sized option. You can place specialised dictionaries in case you need it for study or knowledge of a particular subject, such as theology or mathematics.

In this case, it is possible to buy a model without illustrations, to give more space and prominence to the content. If you are learning a language, bilingual models are ideal for consulting individual words. If you want to collect, hardback models are the best option.


Basically, you can find dictionaries in all the sizes you want, but we can divide them into small, medium and large to talk about each of them and when they can be most useful.

Small. We can consider a dictionary to be small when it is less than 13 centimetres tall. They are also called “pocket dictionaries” because they are portable and easy to carry around. Choose this option when you want to keep it with you without taking up too much space or extra weight.

Medium. Medium dictionaries are the ones you are most likely to see in schools and some homes. They can measure between 13 and 17 centimetres in height, and are usually handy to carry in a bag. They can be used by children and adults, and are available with soft or hard covers, depending on your intended use.

Large. Dictionaries larger than 17 centimetres are a good choice for collection in bookstores, libraries or home offices. They are not usually recommended for everyday use or transport because of their heavy and bulky dimensions. They are often found in dictionaries specialised in different subjects, mainly academic.

Bilingual dictionaries are an ideal resource to strengthen second language learning. (Photo: libellule789 /


There are dictionaries that include only text, referring to the terms and definitions included. However, there are models that also include graphics, illustrations, infographics and the like, and in many cases, will include full colour pages.

These models are highly recommended for children, as it is important that they feel motivated to learn, and at a young age they can achieve this with colours and drawings that refer to the topics covered. Choose them in this style if the user will be an infant.

Special editions

The best dictionaries will be determined by the particular need that each person has, so there are several editions that will be useful in different scenarios or contexts. Here are the most common, as well as the monolingual conceptual and bilingual ones.

Synonyms and antonyms. This type of dictionary does not have precise definitions, but each word will have a synonym (different word with the same meaning) and antonym (word that means exactly the opposite). It is excellent for journalists and writers.

Biblical. Biblical dictionaries have theological terminology for a better understanding of the words used and the context in which they were used. They may also include infographics and complementary stories. They are excellent for those interested in topics related to religion.

Mathematics. Mathematics can include terms that are confusing to people who are not 100% steeped in them. For this reason, mathematical dictionaries are ideal for those who want to get into mathematics or for professionals who prefer to keep their knowledge fresh.

Gastronomic. Gastronomic dictionaries will help us to know better the terms related to the world of cooking. They are highly useful for students and gastronomic professionals, and for those who wish to know the words used locally in a specific region.

(Featured image photo: Pisit Heng / Unsplash)