Here we review some online dictionaries with less immediate name recognition than the Oxford English Dictionaries or the Webster Dictionaries. You will find that The American Heritage and other online dictionaries do have special features that make them valuable resources for the savvy researcher.
American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
The American Heritage dictionary reflects new words and contemporary usages in print faster than most other dictionaries. It aims to present the English language as it is now used, rather than in the more strictly traditional form of established English found in the Oxford English Dictionary of the English Language.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition, is avaialble online from the American Heritage website or from book vendors such as Amazon. The American Heritage dictionary online has over 90,000 entries, and is searchable in a variety of ways. You can ask for full text, definition, etymology, entries with notes and articles. As well, Roget's II: The New Thesaurus is available through hyperlinks to dictionary entries. You can also browse through the illustrations.
The online dictionary can be somewhat confusing to use. When you type in an entry word, you are given a list of sentences using that word. Once you decide which sentence seems to be closest in meaning to the word you want, you click on the entry, and are taken to a typical dictionary entry, containing different meanings, pronunciation, parts of speech, examples, and etymology.
At the top of the entry page of the dictionary, you are offered a choice of dictionary, thesaurus, quotations and English usage. When you click thesaurus, you again get a list of the word in context, and need to click the context closest to the meaning for which you need a synonym. When you click on one of those choices, you are brought to a typical thesaurus page.
This works nicely, although it is a little cumbersome, if you have an idea of the meaning of the word you want. If you have a word and you want to know what it means, you must puzzle through the initial list to try and guess what entry you want. Sometimes, if the word you are researching is used in a description of another word, when you click on the link, you find yourself at a page for an entirely different word definition.
Yahoo! offers an online dictionary based on the American Heritage Dictionary, and its interface is a little more straightforward.
The dictionary can be purchased in print through Amazon for about $30 in hardcover, or with CD for $47. The fourth edition is also available for $20. There have been some complaints on Amazon about the CD version of the dictionary. One user commented that an earlier release actually offered more options on the CD. The College version of the dictionary, with fewer entries, is available for $17 in hardcover, or $6 in paperback. The hardcover now comes with a passkey which allows the owner of the print version to download the complete text of the dictionary as well as Roget's Thesaurus.
Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English
The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English is free online, and the dictionary is also available for purchase on CD. It attempts to keep up with current English usage as it changes with the times. A feature of this dictionary is dual definitions for words with different meanings in British or American English. You can use the search box to find all words in the LDOCE, have the words pronounced, and see an example sentence using the word.
The online version contains over 20,000 definitions. You can also look at the dictionary definition you looked at just previously by using your browser backspace button.
Longman is also affiliated with a website, Pearson Longman, with English Language teaching resources for students and teachers, as well as writing practice and free example exams in English proficiency.
The LDOCE also offers a number of widgets which allow you to put the search box on your browser, Google homepage, or on your website.
The Free Dictionary
The Free Dictionary is an online dictionary, Encyclopedia, and Thesaurus. It is published by Farlex. In English, it offers a Dictionary/Thesaurus, a Medical Dictionary, a Legal Dictionary, an Encyclopedia, and other free resources. Farlex also offers a subscription to the Hutchinson Encyclopedia. They provide phonetics for their definitions, and you can click an icon to hear the word pronounced. They also note when a word is used or defined differently in American English versus British English.
If you like the features of the Free Dictionary, it offers you the option to set it as your home page, with a number of customizable features.
An entry in the Free Dictionary provides the etymology of a word, definitions from several sources; when I looked up 'boot', definitions were credited to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2003, and Collins Essential English Dictionary, 2nd Edition 2006 © HarperCollins Publishers 2004, 2006, and the thesaurus section following the definition of the word came from WordNet3.0 Farlex clipart collection, © 2003-2008 Princeton University, Farlex, Inc., and Collins Essential Thesaurus, 2nd Edition 2006 © HarperCollins Publishers 2005, 2006. Below the thesaurus section was a section for translations, where you could select the language you wished to translate the word. This section was credited to Password English Learner’s Dictionary © 1986-2008 K Dictionaries Ltd and partners. All rights reserved.
Each entry in the Dictionary/Thesaurus also tells you in which other dictionaries on the the site the word is defined, such as the Medical dictionary, the Legal Dictionary,and Idioms. Sources for the Medical Dictionary came from Dorland's Medical Dictionary for Health Consumers. © 2007 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved, the Saunders Comprehensive Veterinary Dictionary, 3 ed. © 2007 Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved and McGraw-Hill Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..