On languages having an Academy (I know it's not the English case thanks to this SE site) it's usual that those academies edit and maintain a kind of official dictionary for that language.


I speak galician and spanish natively, and use that dictionaries to access a kind of official definition for some words when writing documents, I trust that resources because are widely accepted by both language communities. I do it often:

  • to ensure quality choosing words, especially within assertions. (Ex: this words are sinonyms but what should I use here?)
  • for grammar doubts (Ex: is that word masculine or femenine? Is that word a plural or singular).

Usually I find myself using the definitions feature of google translate (see an example) to know a kind of formal definition for a word, but I don't know where that definitions come from. That definitions seem enough valid to me for reading purposes (knowing the meaning of a word) but for writing with a proper terminology I would like to access something more official, if there is any.


Is there a kind of "official" dictionary for the English language?

If there isn't, are there good alternatives? With good I mean:

  • Free, at least to access and use.
  • Trustable - being widely supported by the English language community
  • Online accesibility is a nice plus

Author Notes:

  1. The intents of the questions above are nothing but finding a good dictionary to daily use for the writing purposes I explained within the context.
  2. Sorry if my English hurts your eyes ;)
  • 1
    I'd say the top ones are the Oxford English Dictionary, Collins English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster, but I'm not knowledgeable enough on the topic to say for certain which if any are used "officially" by academic institutions. I know there are a few teachers who post here a lot, so they'll probably be able to offer good advice. Feb 7, 2016 at 16:22
  • 2
    Official? No. Authoritative? OED. Good and online? No, but some suck less than others, M-W, TFD, dictionary.com. Wiktionary is not in the sucking less category.
    – Mitch
    Feb 7, 2016 at 16:22
  • 2
    Don't forget Urban Dictionary @Mitch, I mean how much more official can you get? Feb 7, 2016 at 16:23
  • 1
    @Mitch You...you know I was joking there, right? XD Feb 7, 2016 at 16:28
  • 1
    @laconbass If that's the case I'd second Mitch's OED. Also I can't not read your username as a spoonerism of baconlass and I truly hope you meant it that way. Feb 7, 2016 at 16:37

4 Answers 4


English does not have an official dictionary. However, I think the three most respected ones in the United States are Merriam-Webester, Oxford's, and Collins. You have to buy an Oxford dictionary, so that's not going to work very well for you. The Merriam-Webster's website is found at http://www.merriam-webster.com, and the Collins one can be found at http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/american-cobuild-learners. My personal favorite is http://www.dictionary.reference.com. While not as official, it is trusted by my English teacher.

And if I have learned anything in my Spanish class as school, do not trust google translate. Otherwise this is liable to happen.

  • You'll need to specify which Oxford dictionary; they publish many, for different purposes, for different audiences, and I do not think any of the Oxford dictionaries of American English are necessarily more authoritative than the American Heritage Dictionary, for example.
    – choster
    Feb 9, 2016 at 2:30
  • @chosted I don't profess to be an expert on dictionaries, but regardless which of of dictionary, they are all normally considered to be accurate. And I was merely going off of dictionaries I have heard of before. I didn't know there was such a thing as the American Heritage Dictionary. Feb 9, 2016 at 2:31
  • 1
    @choster But the OED is the only one which will provide you with the history of words from their earliest use, and also an authoritative etymology.
    – WS2
    Sep 15, 2017 at 8:00
  • Why do you say that you have to buy an Oxford dictionary? There is OOD Aug 20, 2018 at 23:12

There is no official dictionary or even consistent worldwide rules of spelling and grammar. The only real rule in English is to write so that you can be understood. The best way to do that is to use a dictionary that was created as geographically close to your audience as possible. Even if it is a free online dictionary.


No-one has mentioned the excellent Chambers dictionaries. It has traditionally beenoften up to date than the OED, because it was quicker to respond to new or altered meanings or incorporate new words. It is considered by some (e.g., Scrabble in the UK and the Observer newspaper) as more authoritative. Unlike the OED, it does not accept the use of 'times' as a verb to mean 'multiply' or the misuse of 'literally' as a meaningless intensifier. In such cases, the OED is seen as contributing to the mutation of English by recognising common errors.

  • Hello Bill D! Welcome to EL&U. Could you please provide links. These will be helpful to other users. If you haven't yet, please take the tour and read through the help centre.
    – bookmanu
    Aug 20, 2018 at 14:49
  • 2
    Welcome to EL&U. If, however, by "more authoritative and accurate" you mean "conforms to Bill D's personal preferences and peeves," I'm afraid this isn't a good answer for the Stack Exchange model; in any case, you do not address the OP's search for an "official" dictionary. It may well be that Chambers' publications are superior to Oxford's, but if Oxford has better standing among writers or the general public, it is the more accurate answer. Besides, official Scrabbledom appears to base its word lists on works by Collins and Merriam-Webster. I encourage you to edit your post to add detail.
    – choster
    Aug 20, 2018 at 14:51
  • Commenting on comments. Oh woe, that somebody here cares about the English language and is giving helpful information! 'welcome to EL&U', indeed... Also, the idea that the knowledge of an individual is spurious, unless it links to 'something someone already said' - anyone, it doesn't matter who, because 'the internet is the new intellectual authority', is tragic.... The idea that 'common usage' should win, over 'original definition' is tragic. And that is, precisely, what the op is asking 'why no official dictionary?' This answer highlights an aspect of the problem - mutation of English.
    – Jelila
    Sep 10, 2022 at 19:48



OED links above are free, online, and quite respected and considered as good authority in general.

Oxford produces many dictionaries, differing in how many words are defined and whom the primary target audience is. Here's a couple of online free OED access URLs to get you started. Look for the small, light blue icon shaped like the flared bell of a horn's mouth with arcs depicting sound waves.

When that audio icon is part of a word's listing, just click on it to hear the word pronounced. (Note - I don't know if the audio icon appears only on a computer-accessed page, or if it is or isn't also provided if access is permitted using a smartphone or tablet. I mention that because sometimes the mobile versions of apps don't have quite the same properties as computer-format ones.) Audio is seldom provided using the US dictionary option.

Use the default that simply says Dictionary. That one is for British and world English usage which is often different than Americanized English. Or in the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, the British English and the North American English pronunciations are often provided on the same screen.

For those looking for a fairly authoritative, respected dictionary, those Oxford dictionaries linked above may be helpful.

  • These are good sources; however, you fail to mention that they are not official sources, as the OP asked.
    – Davo
    Sep 15, 2017 at 11:14

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