Dictionary Skills

You have worked with a dictionary in previous grades, so you should already know how to:

  • look up the meaning of words that you don’t know in a dictionary;
  • check the spelling of words in the dictionary;
  • check which part of speech the word is;
  • look up the plural form of a word;
  • look up related words;
  • find out alternative spellings of the word;
  • find out phrases and idioms in which the word is used;
  • see how to pronounce a word;
  • identify the origin of words.

You will realise that a dictionary is a very valuable tool, which you will use throughout your life, at school and when you go to work.

All of the words in the English language can be found in a dictionary, with new ones being added every year, as new words become commonly used, for example, ‘selfie’ and ‘hashtag’.

A dictionary can also help you to put a list of words in alphabetical order.  However, by now you will probably be able to do this without the help of the dictionary.

Hopefully you will be in the habit of noting down words that you don’t understand in a personal dictionary.


You can use a dictionary in a book or online and most will have a similar layout. The illustration below shows the general layout of a dictionary.  However, different versions might vary slightly.


Go to the link below to see the various layouts of online dictionaries for the word ‘dictionary’.


Activity 1

Alphabetical Order

Activity 2

Using a Dictionary

You will need a dictionary for this activity. Although you can use an internet or computer based dictionary, it may be easier to have a book dictionary available too.

Answer all of the questions by selecting the correct answer from the options provided.

Will you be a Dictionary Wizard (10 out of 10), a Dictionary Whizz (8 or 9 out of 10), a Dictionary Graduate (6 or 7 out of 10) or a Dictionary Trainee (5 or below)?

Questions Possible Answers
1. What does it mean to be pompous’?
2. What part of speech is ‘pompous’?
3. What part of speech is belfry’?
4. What is an onslaught’?
5. What does it mean to mesmerise’?
6. What is the origin of the word mesmorise’?
7. What is a sackbut’?
8. What does it mean to bumble’?
9. Look up the word jocular to choose the correct definition.
10. The word angle has three meanings:

Activity 3

Understanding a Dictionary Entry

Look at the dictionary entry below and answer the questions that follow by clicking one answer for each. You may use a dictionary to help you. Look at the pages at the front of the dictionary for clues.

Will you be a Dictionary Wizard (10 out of 10), A Dictionary Whizz (8 or 9), a Dictionary Graduate (6 or 7) or a Dictionary Trainee (anything below 5)?



1. the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual: Running away was not in keeping with her character.
• the distinctive nature of something: Gas lamps give the area its character.
• [ mass noun ] the quality of being individual in an interesting or unusual way: The island is full of character.
• [ mass noun ] strength and originality in a person's nature: She had character as well as beauty.
• a person's good reputation: To what do I owe this attack on my character?
• dated - written statement of someone's good qualities; a testimonial: You are dismissed without a character.
2. a person in a novel, play, or film. The author's compassionate identification with his characters.
• a part played by an actor. The actor's TV character is often on the wrong side of the law.
• [with adj. ] a person seen in terms of a particular aspect of character: He was a larger-than-life character | shady characters.
• informal - an unusual or amusing person: She's a right character with a will of her own.
3.a printed or written letter or symbol.
• Computing - a symbol representing a letter or number.
4.chiefly Biology; a characteristic, especially one that assists in the identification of a species.
verb [ with obj. ] archaic
inscribe or write (something).
• describe: You have well charactered him.
in (or out of) character in keeping (or not in keeping) with someone's usual pattern of behaviour and motives. His outburst was entirely in character.
characterful adjective,
characterfully adverb,
characterless adjective,
ORIGIN Middle English: from Old French caractere, via Latin from Greek kharaktēr ‘a stamping tool’.From the early sense ‘distinctive mark’ arose ‘token, feature, or trait’ (early 16th cent.), and from this ‘a description, especially of a person's qualities’, giving rise to ‘distinguishing qualities’

Questions Possible Answers
1. The numbers represent:
2. These letters |ˈkarəktə| show:
3. The word ‘archaic’ means:
4. The main use for the word ‘character’ is as a:
5. In the informal definition for ‘character’ (she’s a right character...):
6. A ‘derivative’ is:
7. Under ‘1.’ the fourth dot uses ‘attack on my character’. This means that someone says:
8. The origin of the word ‘character’ comes from:
9. The original meaning of the word was:
10. The antonym of having character is to be:

Activity 4

Using Information in a Dictionary

Using the information found at the front of your dictionary, answer the questions that follow.

Answer all of the questions by selecting the correct answer from the options provided.

Will you be a Dictionary Wizard (10 out of 10), a Dictionary Whizz (8 or 9 out of 10), a Dictionary Graduate (6 or 7 out of 10) or a Dictionary Trainee (5 or below)?

Questions Possible Answers
1. If you were to look up the word ‘averaged’ how would you find it in the dictionary?
2. The inclusion of (av-a-riss) in the dictionary definition of the word.
3. Showing ‘-dos’ at the end of the dictionary definition for avocado is to indicate:
4. The numbers next to each word show:
5. Find the word ‘avast’. Using the list of abbreviations in the dictionary, work out the origin of the word.
6. The abbreviations in the list in the dictionary have:
7. The abbreviation ‘conj’ stands for:
8. The opposite of the abbreviation ‘pl’ is:
9. The four points of the compass are abbreviated as:
10. To show if a word is used in a masculine or feminine sense: