Kinds of Dictionaries

Student researching in a dictionary.
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When it comes to dictionaries, some people still prefer the hulking, unabridged book formats while others opt for online editions. Various types of dictionaries exist for each language and for specialized purposes. The type of dictionary selected depends upon the user's needs.

1 General Dictionary

The general dictionary encompasses an entire language. For example, the Oxford English Dictionary contains all words of the English language. Readers and writers refer to the general dictionary with questions regarding the correct spelling and usage of words. Providing spelling, pronunciation, definitions and usage, general dictionaries standardize language. If we failed to standardize language with the use of dictionaries, the language would decay over time with too many variations.

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2 Translation Dictionary

The translation dictionary allows users to look up a word in one language and find its corresponding word in another language. Like general dictionaries, they may contain an entire language, or as travel-sized dictionaries, contain only the more commonly used words and phrases. Electronic and online translators provide a convenient substitute to the more traditional translation dictionary.

3 Specialized Dictionary

The specialized dictionary lists words and definitions specific to a particular purpose. Professional dictionaries such as medical or legal dictionaries provide the terminology specific to those career fields. Vocabulary limited to technical projects, specific settings or even slang or humor result in specialized dictionaries to support its use. For example, the distinctive jargon of inner-city youth is found in the urban dictionary while a surgical word dictionary contains surgery's precise technical language.

4 Encyclopedic Dictionary

While the general dictionary and even the specialized dictionary limit themselves to succinct definitions, the encyclopedic dictionary expands definitions in a fashion similar to an encyclopedia. As defined by Miriam-Webster, a comprehensive dictionary with more thorough coverage of each word meets the definition of encyclopedic. While a translation dictionary would not be considered encyclopedic, both specialized and general dictionaries may be expanded to meet the criteria.

Based in Cape Coral, Fla., Jennifer Groepl began writing career-related articles in 2010. She also runs her own medical transcription service. Certified in secondary education, Groepl holds a Bachelor of Science in social sciences from Florida State University and a Master of Arts in curriculum and instruction from New Mexico State University.