Site Search:
Get TEFL Certified & Start Your Adventure Today!
Teach English Abroad and Get Paid to see the World!
Job Discussion Forums Forum Index Job Discussion Forums
"The Internet's Meeting Place for ESL/EFL Students and Teachers from Around the World!"
 FAQFAQ   SearchSearch   MemberlistMemberlist   UsergroupsUsergroups   RegisterRegister 
 ProfileProfile   Log in to check your private messagesLog in to check your private messages   Log inLog in 

Recommended advanced learner dictionaries

Post new topic   Reply to topic    Job Discussion Forums Forum Index -> General Discussion
View previous topic :: View next topic  
Author Message

Joined: 13 Mar 2005
Posts: 3292
Location: UK > China > Japan > UK again

PostPosted: Fri Sep 26, 2008 12:35 am    Post subject: Recommended advanced learner dictionaries Reply with quote

After extensive use and careful examination of primarily the following four books along with their CD-ROM versions (the two can be bought together for only slightly more than the book alone, and nowadays many people will consult the CD-ROM version more than the book, especially to take advantage of the many extras on such CD-ROMs (see below)), I believe that the best monolingual advanced learner dictionary packs currently available are (in rank order, from first to fourth place): the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary 7th edition, the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English 4th edition, the Macmillan English Dictionary (New/2nd edition), and the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary 3rd edition, my reasoning being as follows:

The Oxford is probably the most attractive visually (both the book and CD-ROM)*, of the four the most thorough and where need be explicit in terms of grammar coding, has idioms and phrases in a single alphabetical block at the end of an entry (useful if it's students rather than native teachers who are using the book ~ versus the Longman's very explicit, but correspondingly strict ordering of everything in an entry by frequency, except for phrasal verbs), very useful 'Other reference' appendices (the ones on numbers, abbreviations, prefixes and suffixes, and particularly the sayings and proverbs, all stand out), and on the CD-ROM, a nifty 'Know-how' function that provides matching examples according to each word or text (and additional word or phrase) that you type or paste into the search box, the Wordfinder dictionary (not quite the equal of the Longman Language Activator, but a welcome addition nontheless) and a reasonable range of "drag n drop into the gap" exercises, though such exercises are pretty standard on these CD-ROMs nowadays. (One could also argue that the slightly larger defining vocabulary of the OALD generally results in more accurate definitions, but in order to arrive at a perfect definition it is probably necessary to own several dictionaries! For example, I find the Macmillan often expresses the functions of a word or phrase just so. Owning more than one dictionary obviously also comes in handy when you can't find what you're looking for - all dictionaries differ somewhat in comprehensiveness, and a dictionary that's good in one entry may well be less detailed in another - or simply want a differing take, or more "vital" examples etc (I have to add that I quite often find the Longman's examples the most preferable i.e. appealing - the spoken component of at least the BNC seems to have had more of a look-in)).

The only truly outstanding features of the competing book-CD-ROM packs are, as far as I am aware, the Longman's aforementioned frequency information (particularly its highlighting of respective frequencies in speech versus writing), and inclusion on the CD-ROM of the Activator and audio for not only words but every example sentence, as well as the option to arrange example sentences by a concordance/KWIC view; the Macmillan's treatment of metaphor, and its 2e CD-ROM's thesaurus (similar to the Cambridge's Smart thesaurus), searchable/full listing of illustrations (as has the Cambridge; can't seem to find this feature on the Oxford or Longman), sound effects, and animations; and the Cambridge book's phrase index (I assume the 3rd edition has retained this, as it allows one to look up a compound or phrase via any of the keywords within it), and its CD-ROM's aforementioned Smart thesaurus and listing of illustrations. (But actually, I think the original Cambridge International Dictionary of English would where still available be a better buy, certainly for the book, than its later incarnations in the revised form of the various CALDs - the CIDE had lots of useful features such as 'Language Portraits', lists of false friends, famous quotations, illustrations etc, and likely a greater number of examples and corresponding sub-definitions too). (NB: Bear in mind that after about a month, my first edition of the Macmillan CD-ROM always seemed to need to be put into and kept inside my PC drive, increasing wear and slowing access - hopefully Macmillan have in the 2e fixed this potential glitch. Edit: Technical advice and fixes can now be found on the MED site. The Longman just needs reinserting every 30 days and can then be promptly removed again, whilst the Oxford and Cambridge CD-ROM programs do not require any insertion of/reauthentication from the original CD-ROM after the initial installation).

BTW, some of these (at least the books), or their intermediate level counterparts, may be available in local bilingualized versions (see for example the following thread: ).

Anyway you can check out and compare all the above books and CD-ROMs at the following sites (free online versions of the dictionaries are in bold):
( > )
( >> )
(Edit: Is it just me, or has the 2nd edition of the MED started to introduce maybe a few too many senses/meaning distinctions/subentries sometimes?).

You'll notice that I haven't mentioned any COBUILD dictionaries, but then, I'm of the opinion that whilst we should acknowledge the innovations that COBUILD introduced (particularly the use of stylistically-consistent, full-sentence definitions), I really do not understand why they insist on not separating differing parts of speech into separate entries (it must make finding the correct entry very slow for learners who have already intuited that they are dealing with e.g. a noun rather than a verb); nor do I understand why they chose to make the changes they did with the 4th edition (see for further comments). Other dictionaries have got the balance of tradition and innovation right, and have been quicker to add new features (or retain those older ones) that would seem to be of benefit to learners. But by all means check out their latest offerings (they published an American version a year or so ago), and derived ones such as the BBC English Dictionary, the Collins Plain English Dictionary etc. COBUILD certainly provides a lot of grammar information (more detailed than even the Oxford it seems).

I also haven't mentioned any purely American publishers because they have generally been very slow to invest in computerized corpora and are therefore lagging somewhat behind the best of the modern British publications; the only dictionaries dealing with American English that I can thus recommend are the American English edition of the Macmillan (very similar to the above, except that American spellings and meanings/vocab are to the fore), and the Longman Advanced American Dictionary (now in a snazzy new/2nd edition - see the Longman links above. It would appear however that its CD-ROM is not as feature-packed as the British English LDOCE4(v.2 - which appears to have two as opposed to just the one CD-ROM)).
EDIT: The following from Merriam-Webster however is certainly an excellent online resource:

If your students really are pretty advanced** then they might like to consider getting a native-speaker dictionary, such as the (New) Oxford Dictionary of English, which has very clear breakdowns of meaning from basic to extended/figurative***, and a wealth of encyclopedic information (i.e. that goes beyond the selective cultural allusion stuff culled from other Oxford and Longman cultural dictionaries and included on the respective advanced CD-ROMs); and the American version (the New Oxford American Dictionary) is just as good if not better. Then there is the (New) Oxford Thesaurus of English, surely the best available (the Oxford Paperback Thesaurus, which BTW seems identical to the latest edition of the Concise Oxford Thesaurus, manages to pack in about 95% of the contents of the full-size (N)OTE by omitting the extremely rare or archaic items). Lastly, the Chambers 21st Century Dictionary is interesting in that it resembles an ALD (most closely, the OALD 6th edition), but it is not as comprehensive phraseologically/in dealing with the more common words as ALDs, nor is it anywhere near as comprehensive encyclopedically as the larger yet only marginally more expensive full-size native-speaker dictionaries such as the (N)ODE just mentioned.

*Only the Oxford and Longman use full colour throughout the books (and thus have full-colour illustrations); the Macmillan has few illustrations, and the Cambridge (CALD as opposed to the earlier CIDE) none IIRC, and the Macmillan's overall red tones can get to some eyes, whilst the CALD's green (CIDE was black and white, but looked crisp despite being the denser) is the most drab overall.

**Note that the NODE shows pronunciation (in IPA) only for those "harder" words that would give native speakers pause. For example, bake, baby, beach, bewilder, boastful and budget are assumed to be no problem for NODE users, as opposed to say, baba, ganoush, baccalaureate, beatific, bijouterie, bucolic and buddleia, or Kieslowski, or Althusser. '(T)he principle followed is that pronunciations are only given where they are likely to cause problems for the native speaker of English, in particular for foreign words, foreign names, scientific and other specialist terms, rare words, and words with unusual or a choice of stress patterns or alternative/disputed pronunciations generally.'

***The NODE's emphasis on "prototypicality" in meanings certainly results in more focus/less proliferation of needless subsenses than is the case in most other large native-speaker dictionaries, and possibly even than is the case in the best advanced learner dictionaries (not that having more senses or uses or spoken phrases generally in the ALDs doesn't have its advantages - it generally results in more examples, and useful ones at that, for a start).

Last edited by fluffyhamster on Mon Mar 15, 2010 1:56 am; edited 14 times in total
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message

Joined: 13 Mar 2005
Posts: 3292
Location: UK > China > Japan > UK again

PostPosted: Sun Sep 28, 2008 3:18 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I recently got a private message from someone and decided a good place to answer it would be here (my answer as you can see below was getting too long really to send via a PM reply - it could've clogged up both our PM boxes. What would've been wrong with an immediate "short and sweet" answer you might ask. Well, they can sound brusque, and I just preferred to lead into mine - I do eventually offer one! - more gradually. Apologies if this tests some readers' patience Cool Smile ).

Here's their PM:

You posted about some English book suggestions. For a while, I've been looking for some kind of specific proper usages of prepositions-I'm new to this, but I've already seen a lot of learners having trouble with them. I've seen some books that say when to use a few prepositions, but that's it.

I've been looking for a book that would at least answer several of my boss's questions. She was asking questions like should she use "die OF an illness" or "die FROM an illness".

Any suggestions are appreciated.

Below is my reply:

Hiya X. I know it's frustrating for students that dictionaries and usage manuals present a choice and make no obvious effort to explain what if any difference there is between die of or die from (thus: 'die of/from whatever'), but that's perhaps because there might not be a difference! A teacher may still feel compelled to help students (especially the more querulous ones) with all manner of theorizing and conjecturing, but a) will every formerly "interested" student really still be listening and b) does/would it really matter anyway? (See previous "argument from laissez-faire reference books", to which we might add "and from generally unperturbed native-speaker reactions to non-native speech or writing"). More to the point, would such theorizing hold water (in this instance)? A few random examples from here or there could "imply" so, but what of reference works based on large and representative corpora, such as those decent modern advanced learner dictionaries, or usage guides such as the COBUILD English Usage? The COBUILD says:


When a person, animal, or plant dies, they stop living. The other forms of die are dies, dying, died.

We thought we were going to die.
Every day people were dying there.
Blake died in January, aged 76.

When someone dies as a result of a disease or injury, you can say that they die of the disease or injury or die from it.

An old woman dying of cancer was taken into hospital.
His first wife died from cancer in 1971.

He died of a heart attack.
...a man who died from a suspected heart attack.

Many of the injured sailors died of their wounds.
Simon Martin died from brain injuries caused by blows to the head.

You do not use any preposition except `of' or `from' after die in sentences like these.

See also entry at dead.

It's obvious that if the likes of COBUILD can't establish a meaningful difference, nor will the lone student. That is not to say that empirical investigation can't be undertaken individually and won't ever be profitable, but it wouldn't seem worth it in relation to this particular language point. Students should be happy more with managing to produce 'die' and e.g. 'boredom' either side of who cares what preposition, than unhappy and worrying about that preposition - it's the content rather than the exact form that matters, and the preposition here is not real content but filler.

Actually, I find it a bit strange that a student who is already aware (from either prior, recalled learning, or from consulting a dictionary or usage manual) that there isn't much discernible difference between two items would still be carrying on as if there were (or rather, as if there should be) a difference that they could "appreciate" more (more than native speakers?!).

This leads me into my short answer to the original query: a student should buy a good-quality reference or two (e.g. a dictionary and a usage guide) and learn to trust and depend on it, and in the process get on with looking up and mastering new language, be preparing to be ready to fill their productive canvases with broad bold brushstrokes, not timid little blots that occupy only a dark corner. Some aspects of English usage involve making relatively unremarkable choices (where either or any choice from the set available is and/or becomes another equally valid and simple fact).

And obviously I have no problem in recommending a few dictionaries and usage manuals for those students who are still at the stage of requiring them and/or who are prepared to believe and make inferences from what they can see in black and white. The four dictionaries that I've mentioned in my above first post in this thread - the OALD7, LDOCE4, MED2, and CALD3 - all cannot but include such basic fare as 'die of/from'; then there is the Oxford Collocations Dictionary (OCD), which will swiftly answer most queries such as this with the minmum of fuss and clutter. As for the likes of Swan's Practical English Usage, he provides simple lists of frequent combinations of prepositions coming before and after particular words or expressions; Merriam-Webster's Concise Dictionary of English Usage meanwhile often goes into considerable and discursive detail but is therefore perhaps a bit OTT for non-native purposes (I mean, do they really want to themselves get all prescriptive versus descriptive and have nice long arguments LOL - some of them, probably yes! Undoubtedly, this book could be a lot shorter or more genuinely useful if people, especially and "inexcusably" the native-speakers, didn't have such strong opinions/strange fixations).

But wait, a thought and thus a theory has occured to me: is 'die from' unsuited to non-literal meanings such as 'I nearly died of/?from embarrassment!' or 'I'm dying of/??from thirst here!'? Or maybe established phrases just become shorter and more efficient as time goes on (of is just two letters as opposed to from's four, lacks the consonant cluster etc). The OCD before its example ('I could've died of when I saw her standing behind me') at the entry for 'embarrassment' strongly suggests that either 'of' or 'from' could('ve) be(en) used (by means again of 'die of/from ~ '), but the CIDE for example stresses/bolds only 'of' as a collocation (at the entry for the verb 'die'). Personally, I'd go more on the basis of the actual example(s) than the sparse structural shorthand, but this perhaps is an actual instance where students would have a right to be confused (and perhaps to eventually wonder what the OCD was playing at, if they pursued the question empirically?).Surprised Twisted Evil Laughing Wink Smile Cool

A quick mention of different from/to/than (opposite or near 'die', is the only reason it occured to me to choose it!), just so that you (as a native speaker at least, or should that be at most) can compare the aforementioned books a little better (not again that the differences are anything for learners to obssess over):

OALD7 - lists all 3, with examples (actually, all the dictionaries unless noted otherwise expand upon the bare combinations with examples) and clear usage note
LDOCE4 - lists all 3, but usage note not quite as clear as the Oxford
MED2 - lists only d. from and d. in (~ shape, texture), no usage note
CALD3 - lists only d. from, no usage note
You can check all but the MED online for free (see links in my first post above).
(Remember also that on the CD-ROMs that accompany the books you can search for and usually unearth far more examples/the possible combinations within such examples, and that the LDOCE4's CD-ROM allows a 'concordance/KWIC view' of the results).
OCD - only d. from and d. to, no usage note (obviously)
Chambers 21st Century, Swan's PEU, M-WCDofEU - include all 3, clear usage notes

Here again is something from the COBUILD English Usage guide, along with something from the COBUILD3 (CCED for Advanced Learners) Dictionary (neither necessarily as a recommendation, more FWIW, just as a sampling that I could easily copy and paste from the 'Collins COBUILD on CD-ROM' that I have):


If one thing is different from another, it is unlike the other thing in some way.

The meeting was different from any that had gone before.
Health is different from physical fitness.

Many British people say that one thing is different to another. Different to means the same as different from.

Work can be said to be different to a career.
Morgan's law books were different to theirs.

Note that some people object to this use. In conversation, you can use either different from or different to, but in writing it is better to use different from.

American speakers say that one thing is different from or different than another.

I love the English style of football. It's so different than ours.

You do not use `different than' in British English.

`very different'
If there is a great difference between two things, you can say that one thing is very different from the other.

They are in an enclosed community, which is very different from going to work for eight hours a day.

Note that you do not say that one thing is `much different' from another.

If two things are quite similar, you can say that one thing is not very different from the other or not much different from the other.

I discovered that things were not very different from what I had seen in New York.
The food an old person needs is not much different from what anyone else requires.
Inflation during March was not much different from the annual rate that has prevailed for some time.

`no different'
If two things are alike, you can say that one thing is no different from the other.

The fields you could see from the bus window seemed no different from equivalent fields in Iowa.

Note that you do not say that one thing is `not different' from another.

1 If two people or things are different, they are not like each other in one or more ways.
London was different from most European capitals.
If he'd attended music school, how might things have been different?.
We have totally different views.

(ADJ-GRADED: oft ADJ from n)

+ In British English, people sometimes say that one thing is different to another. Some people consider this use to be incorrect.
My approach is totally different to his.
(ADJ-GRADED: v-link ADJ to n)

+ People sometimes say that one thing is different than another. This use is often considered incorrect in British English, but it is acceptable in American English.
We're not really any different than they are.
...a style of advertising that's different than the rest of the country.

(ADJ-GRADED: v-link ADJ than n/cl)

- differently
Every individual learns differently.
They still get treated differently from almost every other contemporary British band.
The skeleton consists of differently shaped bones held together by ligaments.

(ADV-GRADED: ADV after v, ADV -ed, oft ADV from n)

[2 You use different to indicate that you are talking about two or more separate and distinct things of the same kind.
Different countries specialised in different products.
The number of calories in different brands of drinks varies enormously.

(ADJ: ADJ n)
versus identical

3 You can describe something as different when it is unusual and not like others of the same kind.
The result is interesting and different, but do not attempt the recipe if time is short.
(ADJ-GRADED: v-link ADJ)
= distinctive]

It may be that a few students have invested in an inadequate reference book and therefore have questions that need resolving, but some probably either don't have any reference books at all, or don't make use of whichever good ones they have (which are likely gathering dust somewhere); it's not that the good books aren't good enough, just that some students seem to want the "impossible"!

Hope all this helps,

Back to top
View user's profile Send private message

Joined: 26 Jul 2007
Posts: 215
Location: Seoul

PostPosted: Mon Oct 06, 2008 1:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wow, that 4 way review shows real dedication! I've always instinctively gone for and recommended the Oxford, but despite having reviewed dictionaries for TEFL websites and magazines I've never been able to really explain why.

If you'd like to bring your powers of analysis to the review pages of the site my blog is on, please PM me

TEFLtastic blog-
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website

Joined: 13 Mar 2005
Posts: 3292
Location: UK > China > Japan > UK again

PostPosted: Tue Oct 07, 2008 1:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Heh, thanks Alex, but I think I'll have to say no to your offer, mainly because I'd find it difficult to review books that I hadn't bought and probably wouldn't ever really consider buying (such as most textbooks, exam prep guides, TEFL methodology tomes etc)! I'll continue to frequent your blog, though! Wink
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message

Joined: 26 Jul 2007
Posts: 215
Location: Seoul

PostPosted: Tue Oct 07, 2008 1:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Aha, there is a secret special way of TEFL spotting books you'd like in the bookshop and then seeing if you can get a free copy off me instead, but people will definitely need to PM me with the top secret password to get details of that. The top secret password is:


TEFLtastic blog- (people who don't review for me are indeed also allowed to read!)
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website

Joined: 13 Mar 2005
Posts: 3292
Location: UK > China > Japan > UK again

PostPosted: Fri Mar 06, 2009 5:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

At last! Macmillan have finally released a FREE online version of their MED (formerly, one had to prove one had bought a paper copy of the dictionary by answering questions about the contents of random pages). Hooray!

You can select and browse American or British versions (scroll down to the bottom of the following link/webpage):

I've added/edited the link into my very first post above, but thought I'd bump the thread in order to spread the good news quicker! Very Happy Cool
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message

Joined: 13 Mar 2005
Posts: 3292
Location: UK > China > Japan > UK again

PostPosted: Wed Jul 08, 2009 2:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

There's a new 5th edition of the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English out. The accompanying CD-ROM has an interesting-sounding feature called the 'Longman Vocabulary Trainer'. (Click on the second, lowermost 'More' button on the following webpage for details: ).

Edit: Actually, a tour of the CD-ROM is now available!
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message
Display posts from previous:   
Post new topic   Reply to topic    Job Discussion Forums Forum Index -> General Discussion All times are GMT
Page 1 of 1

Jump to:  
You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot vote in polls in this forum

This page is maintained by the one and only Dave Sperling.
Contact Dave's ESL Cafe
Copyright © 2018 Dave Sperling. All Rights Reserved.

Powered by phpBB © 2001, 2002 phpBB Group

Teaching Jobs in China
Teaching Jobs in China