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This content is taken from the Coventry University, The Alan Turing Institute & Macmillan Education's online course, Understanding English Dictionaries. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 2 seconds Here are the components of the Macmillan dictionary entry for the verb love. As you can see, the dictionary developers decided that it had three basic meanings. If we click on show more we can look at each meaning in greater detail like here. Love is the headword and it’s a red word with three stars which means it’s very frequent. You can find out more about red words here. There’s a sound recording, a transcription in IPA. That’s the international phonetic alphabet, and, we know that it’s a transitive verb, information about the word class. If we click on word forms, we can see all the forms of the verb. There’s information about the grammar.

Skip to 1 minute and 7 seconds With meanings one and two, it’s never progressive but for meaning three it’s never passive and there’s information about register, meaning three is mainly used in speech rather than in writing. We can see synonyms and explore the thesaurus. There we are, these are the thesaurus entries. And we can see collocates and phrases and expressions using the word love. There are a lot of them. And finally, here’s some information about how the word is used metaphorically.

Annotating a dictionary entry

Watch the video explaining the key components of a dictionary entry.

As you watch the video, make written notes of the key components that make up a dictionary entry. How many different parts of an entry can you see in the video?

The video explained that, in the Macmillan Dictionary, red stars indicate the frequency of a word in English. You can find more information about red words and stars on the Macmillan Dictionary - Red words and stars page, which also contains a useful YouTube video explaining the differentiation in more detail.

(Please note that, depending on the country in which you are located, you may experience technical issues with accessing YouTube video content.)

Here is another entry from the Macmillan Dictionary. The red star shows that ‘pants’ is a frequent word.

Macmillan Dictionary definition of 'pants'

Dictionary excerpt taken from Macmillan Dictionary © Springer Nature Limited 2019

In the entry there are audio recordings of the word pronounced by British and American speakers, and also International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbols to show how the word is pronounced - /pӕnts/ . For more information about IPA symbols, read this page.

There is also information about regional variation. ‘Pants’ means different things in British and American English. In this example, British English has been set as the default setting, but you can choose to set American English as the default. For more information about default options see this page.

The entry also provides some synonyms and related words, and you can look in the thesaurus to find words for other types of underwear and for types of trousers and shorts. For more information about the Macmillan Thesaurus, read this page.

Your task

Here are some types of information that might be included in a dictionary entry:

  • The part of speech (word class)
  • Information about pronunciation
  • The opportunity to record your own pronunciation, and compare it to a sound recording
  • Definition(s)
  • A label indicating restrictions on grammar patterns
  • Information about frequency
  • Collocations
  • A label indicating that the word is offensive, or restricted to a particular register
  • Information about the origin of the word
  • Information about changes in meaning over time
  • A label indicating that use is restricted to a particular discipline or profession
  • A label indicating that use is restricted to a particular region
  • Examples
  • Pictures (and/or videos)
  • A translation into another language
  • Synonyms
  • Antonyms
  • A usage note, for example showing common errors or differences in usage across registers
  • Concordance lines

Are these types of information included in some entries in the dictionary you use most frequently? If not, would it be useful to include them?

Does the dictionary you use most frequently include other types of information, not listed here?

Video credit: Dictionary excerpts taken from Macmillan Dictionary © Springer Nature Limited 2019

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This video is from the free online course:

Understanding English Dictionaries

Coventry University