Beyond the Dictionary

Beyond the Dictionary--Other Sources on Language

Dictionaries do much more than provide definitions of words. Many help in choosing the correct word, give some synonyms and may have specialized tables (remember WEBSTER'S THIRD?).

In addition to dictionaries, there are other sources you can use to help answer questions on usage, punctuation, word meanings and synonyms and antonyms. Other sources often give fuller and more complete information than general dictionaries and may include works not otherwise found.

THESAURUS, such as ROGET'S INTERNATIONAL THESAURUS, can be used to find synonyms or antonyms. ROGET'S is arranged by subject, putting related words together, so it helps people who are trying to find alternative words. Some THESAURI are arranged more like dictionaries, and words are listed in alphabetical order rather than by subject.

ROGET'S INTERNATIONAL THESAURUS primarily lists words. It does not help choose differences in meaning between two related words. Some dictionaries and some thesauri do have brief advice to help differentiate between meanings, but "usage handbooks" are far superior in giving good discussions on how to choose one word or another in a specific situation. Some common usage manuals are Fowler's DICTIONARY OF MODERN USAGE and Strunk's ELEMENTS OF STYLE.

SLANG AND SPECIALIZED DICTIONARIES include words not found in standard dictionaries. Remember that even the largest of the "unabridged" dictionaries do not contain all words. Slang words are better covered in specialized slang dictionaries like Chapman's NEW DICTIONARY OF AMERICAN SLANG or Partridge's DICTIONARY OF SLANG AND UNCONVENTIONAL ENGLISH. Partridge is superior for English (from England) slang and Chapman for American slang.

Many subject areas have their own dictionaries and encyclopedias which may include specialized terms for that field. These are often more helpful for technical questions in a specific field.

SECRETARY'S HANDBOOKS are excellent places to find quick answers to grammar, spelling and punctuation questions. They also help, as you would suspect, answer questions on how to set up letters, forms of address and other business related procedures.

STYLE MANUALS, such as, Turabian's A MANUAL FOR WRITERS OF TERM PAPERS, AND DISSERTATIONS give accepted formats for academic publications, including forms of footnotes and bibliographical citations. Turabian also includes helpful advice on how to write a term paper.

Complete the Beyond the Dictionary Practice Questions.

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This page was updated on November 11, 2003.