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I'd like to have a dictionary in paper that won't be very big, at least there should be one tome, and it should be something like thefreedictionary.com but in paper, to use it offline.
Please advise.

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If English is your second language, the best dictionary is the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (5th edition). –  Alex B. Jun 11 '12 at 22:59
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4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

For American English, at least, you can't go wrong with either of these:

Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary

American Heritage Collegiate Dictionary

For British English, I recommend:

Concise Oxford English Dictionary

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I like the advanced learner's dictionaries. For British English, they are

Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary

Collin's Cobuild Advanced Dictionary

Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary

Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English

Macmillan Dictionary for Advanced Learners

For American English, they are

Merriam-Webster's Advanced Learner's English Dictionary

Oxford Advanced American Dictionary

They may not contain etymologies or as many words as the bigger dictionaries but have definitions and example sentences that are very helpful to both native speakers and advanced learners alike.

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I really like the Collins English Dictionary. Also very good (it is particularly well laid out) is the Oxford Dictionary of English. Both of these dictionaries contain much encyclopedic material and the Oxford really doubles as an encyclopedia. I have not seen it but I gather there is an excellent Oxford Dictionary of American English that would be worth looking up.

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The OED is widely regarded as the best English dictionary but the full dictionary is about 27 volumes and requires several shelves. There is also a single-volume microprint version that comes with chunky magnifying glass. But it's still much bigger than a regular "desk dictionary". New editions are released very infrequently.

Then there is the Shorter Oxford Dictionary which is sometimes published as a single volume and sometimes as a two volume set. New editions are more frequent than for the full OED.

Also excellent is Webster's Third New International. New editions no longer seem to be published.

The OED focuses on British English and Websters focuses on American English but both deal with all varieties.

Oxford also publishes many other dictionaries out of Britain and America.

The name "Websters" is not trademarked so unfortunately besides the many other genuine Websters dictionaries you will also find many inferior ones using the Webster name as a free ride.

Other good desk dictionaries of English are published by Collins regularly and in Australia The MacQuarie Dictionary is the most highly regarded.

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