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To prevent myself from asking an obvious, silly question multiple times: What are the English language tools you found most useful?

I found Corpus Concordance English extremely useful for looking up collocations.

Please, one tool per answer.

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closed as off topic by RegDwigнt Jul 25 '12 at 19:36

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Mod note: This question exists because it has historical significance, but it is not considered a good, on-topic question for this site, so please do not use it as evidence that you can ask similar questions here. Ordinarily, we would lock such a question; however, because allowing the answers to be edited and voted on greatly enhances its value, we have chosen not to do so. Please do not vote to reopen or delete this question; such actions will be reversed. –  waiwai933 Sep 17 '12 at 0:54
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More organized list on meta: List of general references. –  Andrew Grimm Jan 6 '13 at 7:34
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Hmm. Some of the awesomest questions are closed. This one is linked to from the flippin FAQ. What's the trend? Will migration ease? Will the close-gnomes mellow or militarize? Will "closed as off topic" become a badge of honor? –  BobStein-VisiBone Mar 15 '13 at 19:13

42 Answers 42

TheFreeDictionary.com used with the print layout is currently the fastest online dictionary.

It is easy to configure it to be your word search engine in Chrome & Opera so that you don't have to type the entire URL every time you want to search the meaning of a word or phrase.

Update: The dictionary service provided by Vocabulary.com is blazing fast too. It is easy to configure the service to search for word meanings right from the Chrome address bar

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Google Dictionary by Google is a Chrome browser extension that allows you to look up the definition of a word by just double-clicking it. (There is a similar plugin for Firefox as well.)

After double-clicking any word you get a quick pop-up definition with an icon to hear the word pronounced. It also translates foreign words and supports the following dictionaries:

  • Chinese, Simplified
  • Chinese, Traditional
  • Czech
  • Dutch
  • English
  • French
  • German
  • Greek
  • Italian
  • Klingon
  • Korean
  • Latin
  • Russian
  • Spanish
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Wordnik

Wordnik.com is an online dictionary and language resource that provides dictionary and thesaurus content, some of it based on print dictionaries such as the Century Dictionary, the American Heritage Dictionary, WordNet, and GCIDE. Wordnik has collected a corpus of billions of words which it uses to display example sentences, allowing it to provide information on a much larger set of words than a typical dictionary.
[Source: Wikipedia]

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I find WordWeb invaluable

The software has a full dictionary and thesaurus for American, British, Canadian, Australian, Indian, and global English. It also provides synonyms, antonyms, related words, text & audio pronunciations for words you look up.

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I'm an English as a Second/Foreign Language teacher, and I like to use the Cambridge Dictionaries Online.

It has different levels of definitions from Learner's (which used to be basic or beginner) to Advanced Learner's.

I find it's not only helpful for me when I need to find a way to define a word for a student, but it also helps me understand words I may have never seen before or don't often use. They also have some mobile apps for English students, and a blog that posts about new words in English like lactivism and lets you comment about them.

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Microsoft Word's spelling checker

But be careful with its grammar checker: it’s often wrong.

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I don't know how many times this has saved me from writing "teh..." –  kitukwfyer Sep 11 '10 at 14:15
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Being from a field of science with specialized language, it is a challenge to use, even if I train it on my own computer –  1'' Dec 2 '10 at 15:12
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Be careful! The grammar checker is a useful tool to spot slips, but do not treat it as an authority. –  Pitarou Feb 6 '12 at 15:18

Just

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OneLook also has handy search features. For example you can search for words beginning with ver and containing speech in their definition by entering ver*:speech. –  donothingsuccessfully May 5 '12 at 17:09

Etymonline is an online Etymological dictionary, very handy for tracing the origins of words. Unfortunately it tends to be very terse, sometimes to the point of ambiguity.

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manythings.org is an online "dictionary" which can help you memorize words which are listed according to their frequency.

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The Usenet archive at Google Groups is useful for searching for Internet slang dating back to 1981.

Be careful as there's no way to search only Usenet, and some of the non-Usenet results are misdated, but it can sometimes be useful.

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Fowler's Modern English Usage (original book or the second edition edited by Sir Ernest Gowers) is fun to read and educational.

I don't recommend the new edition.

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Practical English Usage by Michael Swan is very handy if you need to justify edits to a non-native speaker.

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The Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, from the publishers of the OED, is one of my favorite dictionaries.

It has entries written using the Oxford 3000 keywords, so they're easy to understand, suitable for learners and experts alike. Each entry includes British and American English audio and an IPA pronunciation key. The example sentences and usage notes are great.

For focusing on American English, the Oxford Advanced American Dictionary is also now available, which includes essentially the same information and features as the American English parts of the OALD entries.

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This thread has some really good online resources. It would be convenient if one could reference the bulk of them in just one place: a page of favorite links ~ an online wordsmithery of sorts.

The Wordsmithery

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What's another word for...?

I have a minor addiction to looking up synonyms.

My condition led to the creation of a Google gadget which I will now shamelessly plug in the Google Gadget directory.

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Chicago Manual of Style is really useful, especially looking at the example sentences of correctly-typeset English.

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Only if you're being paid to follow it. –  John Lawler May 18 '12 at 18:48

Urban Dictionary

An invaluable and up-to-date resource for looking up slang and other words that are often absent in conventional dictionaries.

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Google

Not Google Books, Language Tools, or even word trends. I mean the search engine. If I am curious about a sentence or spelling, I search for it. If the search returns interesting results similar to what I'm writing about, the sentence was good. If it returns badly-spelled pages about unrelated topics, the sentence is no good.

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The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is a very valuable and rich resource.

When you look up a word, for example, favorite, it provides a comprehensive account of use, history, synonyms, etc.

Note that unlike many free resources in this list, the OED requires a monthly or yearly subscription. However, your library may subscribe and this would allow you to access the OED for free.

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The Internet Archive's Text Archive has old books and journals in many formats, including plain text and scanned. Useful for confirming things only available as snippets in Google Books.

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Project Gutenberg has tens of thousands of free ebooks. Useful for looking up old and classic texts.

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Google Books is useful for searching for real usage and etymology of words and phrases, and for antecedents.

However, care must be taken with metadata, especially when only a snippet is shown: occasionally the book was published later than the the year Google claims it was, and sometimes they accidentally include multiple books for each record.

Therefore it's important to double check the date: scroll up to confirm the real date for "full view" books, and for preview/"snippet view" verify with another source (such as the Internet Archive or Project Gutenberg).

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Word Dynamo

Word Dynamo from Dictionary.com is a nice way to learn new vocabulary. It has flashcard sets of a variety of different topics.

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Google word translation

The translation is displayed in a tooltip after you position the mouse pointer over a word. The Google Toolbar includes this feature.

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Phrases in English

This site allows searching of two- to eight-word phrases from the British National Corpus.

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