Best online dictionaries: 10 free tools
Updated: Aug 20, 2020
I am not going to suggest a machine translation here, because I, like you, am a human translator and content creator that provides rich, contextually-appropriate, personality-filled texts that will meet the needs of my target audiences. I highly suggest that you use machine translations with caution and use an online dictionary for translations to help you in your work, whether it's for your career, for school or for personal use. Here are some of my top picks.
Update: After posting this article on social media, I had a great response where language professionals shared their favorite online dictionary. I've added them to the list.
This online translation tool has been with me for a long time. German-based, they are also the creators of DeepL, the AI-driven machine translator, that provides contextually appropriate translations. Linguee offers a large variety of translations per word. In addition, it provides the words or phrases in context; the word is displayed in sentences or paragraphs drawn from different reference websites to show you how it could be used in various situations. You've also got Wikipedia on site. Linguee has an app (both Android and iOS), which is ad free and works offline as well.
Side-note: The cool thing about English (or sometimes not so cool) is that you can use one word for many situations, which is not always the case in German or other languages that offer a much broader vocabulary - so it’s best to see the word in context. Linguee is a big help here.
CON: They could better identify the category in the reference article section to help understand the field that the word is found in, i.e. medical, scientific, engineering, etc.
A fair warning must be given to new translators who might get confused by all the resources. When in doubt, check another dictionary for a reference.
They say it right at the get-go: Get better translations with 4,846,362,480 human contributions. Boom! Like I said at the beginning, you won't find a machine translation tool here to translate entire texts (nay, nay!). However, that doesn’t mean we can’t use translation memories. This is basically a communal memory submitted by thousands upon thousands of translators who want to make the translation world a better place. It offers contextually appropriate translations to meet your every writing needs. It has an astounding amount of languages - some of which even I have not heard of! You can save your own memory here, as well as add more context in your search.
CON: You will always need to filter to get rid of unwanted translations.
Many of my translator friends gush about Reverso, as they claim it is their go-to. I use it less than Linguee and Dict.cc, however I do refer to it on an occasional basis. It’s a great translator dictionary in many languages that also provides machine translations (you can upload your document there too), though of course, one should never rely fully on a machine translation, despite how much they sell this to you. In any case, Reverso also provides contextual translations, an online spellchecker and synonyms. In addition, you can also look up verb conjugations and grammar. Reverso is also available as an app for both Android and Apple devices or can be added as an internet browser plug-in.
CON: Too many ads
I started using this one back in my University days, and it helped me immensely with all my German projects. Dict.cc is similar to Linguee in that it offers a lot of different variations put in context, as well as synonyms. It can help you create really rich texts that are contextually on-point too! Dict.cc is offered in multiple languages.
Con: The user interface hasn’t changed in 10 years (or maybe more). This isn’t really a problem, but there wasn’t much for me to pick at here.
Bonus: Merriam-Webster Online
English-only site. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary is just a sight for sore eyes - I mean it, the user interface is a pleasure to look at, the offered information a treat and the dictionaries ultra-helpful. The website has articles for language nerds like myself, cool trending words, video content and a thesaurus. Of course, it won’t help you with translating into another language, however, for English proofreading, understanding and learning, you’ve come to the right place.
Con: They should add a translation feature to make it a well-rounded package.
From the community: the ones I liked
Glosbe is a free dictionary like the others which it claims to have almost all existing languages on the planet plus offer a translation memory of over a million sentences. This means that the website has a huge database of words, examples, phrases and expressions for the freelancer to choose from. I tried out the word French Kiss and it provided me with a lot of variations based on the context, stemming from different sites. All in all, a really cool tool to add to my toolbox.
I immediately liked this one. It offers likely all languages, as the list went on and on, and it also provided two areas of reference: Microsoft Terminology Collection and Translations in Localized Microsoft Products. Basically it is giving you free access to all the words that Microsoft has ever translated and localized, as well as draws translations from external sources. All offered translations are neatly displayed, so I can give this service two thumbs up when it comes to user friendliness.
Not sure how I missed this one from my original list, it's a classic. I speak lovingly about dictionaries and when i find a good one, it's heavenly. So, WordReference definitely falls into my list of top online dictionaries. It's been around for a long time and offers a lot about a particular word or expression. For example, it gives you the tone of the word, its origin, contextual examples, forum entries from the community and more. Please add this online dictionary to your list.
Last but not least, the cherry on top is Leo. In addition to many different translations based on the context, it also has an active forum where suggestions are also offered. You also get related search terms. It's a lean online dictionary with the basics of what you need. Not a lot of bells and whistles, but it does the trick.
Community suggestions: no 5 star ratings, but interesting to check out
This dictionary which offers definitions and translations from both Lingbo and Collins dictionary was instantly stumped when I wrote the English word shenanigans. Granted this is very much a slang word, however, it's not so uncommon. It didn't offer a definition either. I typed wilderness, and this didn't come up either. Eventually the word fairy worked and it was cool to see that it provided the word in the context of sentences drawn from books and other online publications. I also didn't like that the prompt to subscribe also popped up numerous times in one sitting. The website has a decent user interface, but it has a lot of work if it wants to be on par with some of the ones listed above.
This option is only in Russian so I can't really pass judgement here, but it was recommended by a Russian translator. So, if you do speak Russian and can read Cyrillic then this online dictionary might be good for you.
These are of course not the only online dictionaries that you can find online, however they are ones that provided me with the most success, the best user experience and the best final results. Try them out yourself or even suggest another one that I have not mentioned here today.
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