Recommended free online dictionaries (and apps)

I remember not so long ago when we had to carry these big heavy dictionaries around with us.  Even when traveling abroad, we’d often buy and take some kind of multi-lingual dictionary or phrase book.

These days, with the internet and smartphones, we can feel much lighter as everything we need is in our phones.  Even better, many of these are now available for free either on a website or as an app. Times are good for dictionaries.

For Engish language learning, it’s generally better to use an English-only learner’s dictionary (as opposed to a bilingual dictionary with both languages).  This will not only give more accurate meanings of words, but also give a better idea of how they’re used.  Being a learner’s dictionary, the meanings will be given in more simple English.

Here are some of my favorite free dictionary websites and apps:

Rank Site Comment
1 Oxford learners dictionary English-only dictionary designed for language learners. The best feature is its very easy-to-understand meanings & examples. Includes audio of both US & British pronunciation.  The site now has new features such as word-origins and a save-to-my-favorites function. Suitable for all learner levels from beginner upwards.
2 Dictionary.com An English-only dictionary site that also includes other features such as interesting and up-to-date articles & video clips related to language and vocabulary (also great topics for learner reading and speaking activities). More suitable for intermediate-advanced learners.
3 Vocabulary.com A very extensive English dictionary and vocabulary learning site.  As well as including detailed definitions and examples, also includes many vocabulary learning features and quizzes for learners (you need to register for these but it’s free). You can also choose to from pre-made word-lists on a range of topics (including Coxhead’s Academic Word List).  The definitions & examples often use difficult language so the site is best suited to intermediate-advanced learners (great for native speakers too!).
4 Youglish.com While this dictionary will not give you the definitions of words, it will find examples of them used on YouTube & provide the relevant video clip and subtitle.  Gives natural examples of the words being used and pronounced in spoken contexts.
5 English Dictionary of Sentences & Collocations (free app) Free dictionary helping learners understand how to use new words. A range of examples show how words searched for are used in natural contexts and their relationships with other words (collocations). Especially useful for writing.
6 Thesaurus.com This is a sub-site of site #2 above that provides alternative single words with the same or opposite meanings (synonyms & antonyms).  Particularly useful for writing.
7 The VOA idiom dictionary A useful and comprehensive source of English idioms. Includes easy-to-understand definitions and detailed examples.
8 Weblio (also free app) Online Japanese-English dictionary.  While I usually recommend English-only dictionaries for language learning, this site is useful especially for beginner-level Japanese learners.  Includes many examples, pronunciation, and now equivalent word ability-levels and (if you register for free) word-save functions etc. Also differentiates between US and British English
9 More words.com A useful site that lets you find a word even if you only know part of the spelling (even if it’s only the letters at the end or in the middle).  Useful for finding words that use a particular prefix or suffix eg. all words starting with “anti-“.  Also great for cheating at word games like Words with Friends (app) or Scrabble 😉
10 Voicetra Translation (free app) Free translation app that translates audio surprisingly accurately between different languages.  A few drawbacks include not doing so well with place names and sometimes unable to accurately translate more grammatically complex language (eg. embedded clauses etc.).  Quite useful for absolute beginners learners traveling abroad (for shopping, restaurants etc.).