What Should a Learner’s Dictionary
-An evaluative study of the quality and effectiveness of three English-English
The present study aims at the comparison
and contrast of three monolingual (English-English)
dictionaries namely: Oxford Advanced Learner’s
Dictionary of Current English, Collins
Cobuild English Language Dictionary and Cambridge
International Dictionary of English, with
the learner in mind. It has been found that there
are differences in presenting lexical items in
each of the three dictionaries, which prompted
me to invent a heuristic checklist against which
each dictionary is evaluated with reference to
twenty six representative lexical items chosen
at random. While CCELD has been evaluated as No.1
among the three dictionaries, the research is
not meant to prefer one dictionary to another
as much as to reveal the characteristics that
can meet the persisting needs of the learner.
Based on linguistic and statistical analysis,
the discussion of the research results, indeed,
concludes that a good learner’s dictionary is
more than a paraphrase a word.
and definitions of terms used in this study
CCELD : Collins Cobuild English Language Dictionary
CIDE : Cambridge International Dictionary of English
OLDCE : Oxford Learner’s Dictionary of Current English
DF= Derivational Forms
Lexi= Lexical relations
IF= Inflectional Forms
FT= Formality and register
BrP= British Pronunciation
CIE= Collocations, Idioms and Fixed Expressions
AmP= American Pronunciation
PS= Part of Speech
CL= Classification of Lexemes
Var= Variation of usage
VAS= Verb Argument Structure
1= A method is available
0= A method is not available
relations: synonyms, antonyms, hyponyms etc
of Lexemes: attributive or predicative or gradable
(adjective), countable or uncountable (nouns), etc.
· Variation of usage: variation according to country as Britain, USA, Australia,
etc, Variation in spelling.
Argument Structure transitive, intransitive, ditransitive
Formality and register:
formal, informal, slang, colloquial, vulgar, scientific,
literary, medical etc.
I. Statement of Problem
A learner’s dictionary is by definition targeted to satisfy the needs of the
learner who should be helped not only to learn the
meanings of lexical items (new to him/her), but
also how to use each correctly and idiomatically.
It is our belief, therefore, that any dictionary,
especially a learner’s dictionary should employ
specific ‘methods’ of presenting a word to the learner.
This paper propounds a set of methods to help assess
the efficiency of an English-English dictionary
(See Appendix 3).
The present piece of research will shed light on these methods with reference
to the assessment of three English-English dictionaries,
namely Cambridge International Dictionary of
English (CIDE), the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English (OLDCE)
and Collins Cobuild English Language Dictionary
II- Review of Related Literature
II.1. Bobda (1998)
In his article on British and American usage, Bobda argues that “the divergences
between American and British English pose problems
of intelligibility that cannot be altogether overlooked”
(Bobda: 1998, 17). Not only do these divergences
emerge on the spelling or semantic levels, but also
transcend them to the syntactic properties of words.
Quoted below are some interesting examples provided
– “Accommodation”: Singular (British English) è Plural (US English ) (Bobda:1998, 16)
– “Snuck out” in British English è sneaked out (US English) (Bobda: 1998, 16).
“I visited with my friends (American English) for I visited my friends (British English)”
(Bobda: 1998, 16) “underlines added”
The above example shows that the uncountable becomes countable, the transitive
becomes intransitive and so forth. With learner’s
dictionaries in mind, there is no doubt that problems
of usage among the different varieties of English
II.2. Ahulu (1998)
Samuel Ahulu, in his article entitled Grammatical Variation in International
English, points to the grammatical divergences
existing between standard English on the one hand,
and written English in postcolonial countries on
the other. Noun countability, for example, does
not seem the same in both British English and some
postcolonial English. The word “furniture” is uncountable
in British English, and could occur in utterances
like: “a piece of furniture” and “pieces of furniture”.
Some uncountable nouns, however, are used as countable
in English written in postcolonial countries as:
“luggages, furnitures, accommodations,
II.3. Hamdan and Fareh (1997)
Quite a large number of foreign learners are obsessed with the idea that if
two words are synonyms, they can be used interchangeably
in any context whatsoever. Hamdan and Fareh, In
their discussion of verb argument structure, have
observed that not only is this idea wrong, but also
that this misconception may sometimes be inherent
in and reinforced by a number of dictionaries. Two
sets of verbs have been chosen and scrutinised in
terms of their respective VAS (Verb Argument Structures).
Each two verbs are semantically synonymous, but
do not share the same argument structure. The following
is an illustrative example:
“Build can occur in (1)a. and (1)b. below, whereas its generally cited synonym construct
can only occur in (2)b.
(1) a. Ali built a grand palace for Salma.
b. Ali built
Salma a grand palace.
(2) a. Ali constructed a grand palace for Salma.
b. * Ali constructed Salma a grand palace.”
(Hamdan and Fareh: 1997, 197) “underlines added”
Upon discussing the various problems besetting some monolingual dictionaries,
in this specific area, the researchers have recommended
that “dictionary compilers consider the provision
of some more detailed information on the syntax
of verbs” (Hamdan and Fareh: 1997, 215).
II.4. Jackson (1996)
Jackson is of the opinion that a learner’s dictionary should take into account
that EFL learners “employ language in two functions:
decoding (i.e. listening and reading), and encoding
(i.e. speaking and writing)” (Jackson: 1996, 176).
Therefore, if a dictionary is to meet these two
needs, it should be keen to include such essential
information as context(s) of use and clear definitions
of all senses of a word (lexeme) in addition to
the appropriate register and field. But first and
foremost, Jackson maintains that a learner’s dictionary
must provide for “accurate and detailed grammatical
information so that correct and natural sentences
can be encoded” (Jackson: 1996, 176). To
these, he adds collocational information.
If these suggestions, posited by Jackson, are carefully observed, the EFL learner
may be able to get rid of his/her native language
interference in his speaking or writing in the second
language (herein English).
III. Significance of Study
The English learner’s monolingual dictionary is very essential for students
of English as a foreign language. It is usually
in this dictionary a student learns a word and learns
how to idiomatically use it in English. It is therefore
important to check how far successful a dictionary
is in fulfilling the needs of the learner’s.
A search on the internet revealed many sites giving assessments on learner’s
dictionaries (the key words searched for are: “evaluation,
assessment, dictionary, dictionaries, learner’s”.
One of these sites is: http://www.geth.demon.co.uk/voc.html. This site however, like other ones found, presents assessment on the use of
monolingual learner’s dictionaries based on personal
An interesting example about groundless evaluations of dictionaries could found
at the aforementioned site is an advice by the writers,
i.e. Gethin and Gunnemark, saying that “Dictionaries
tooare often the great enemies of word-learning”.
Paradoxically, the writers talk about students whose
repertoire of vocabulary is poor and are tired of
checking the dictionary every now and then while
reading. So what is and where is the problem? Is
it in the dictionary or in the learner?
This illustration shows how some assessments of dictionaries have either lacked
systematicity and authenticity or haven’t been based
on solid grounds.
This study therefore fills in the gap by suggesting a systematic and linguistic
method of evaluating a learner’s dictionary, something
that will benefit both the user and the researcher
in this field.
IV. Developing a Heuristic checklist
The following heuristic checklist shows what a learner expects or needs to find
in a learner’s dictionary:
1- Semantic Information:
by paraphrase (para)
B- Lexical Relations
(Synonyms and/or antonyms and/or semantic
field and/or co-hyponyms)
and Technicality (formal, informal, slang, colloquial,
I-Collocations, idioms and fixed expressions
II-Illustrative examples showing the actual grammatical usage of the
I-Parts of Speech
of a non-verb Lexeme (i.e. countable and uncountable
nouns, gradable, attributive and predicative (Adjectives), etc.)
use in sentences
forms of lexemes
forms of lexemes
(with special reference to BrE and AE)
(Variation of usage or spelling in the various Englishes:
British, American, New-Zealand, Australian, Canadian,
The above points will be the parameters of examining the
chosen lexemes in this study.
V. The Corpus
The corpus incorporated in this study includes twenty six
lexemes chosen randomly to represent the English
alphabets. They are as follows:
Awning (n), buy(v), cybernetics (n), dwell (v), exult (v),
fuse (n), gutter (n), hypochondriac (adj), itinerary
(n), justice (n), knot (n), luster (n), muzzle (n),
nurture (v), owe (v), pussy (n), quirk (n), ruse
(n), syntax (n), typewriter(n), utilize (n), voucher
(n), write-up (n), xenophobia (n), your (pro), zigzag(n).
A comparison has been drawn among the chosen incorporated
words in terms of the parameters mentioned in V
above. A table of these words is appended to this
research, providing a comparison between the three
dictionaries in question. The different methods
have been checked. The symbol 0 signifies the absence
of a method, while 1 stands for its presence. The existing
methods with respect to each word have been checked
and the total amount of these methods for each dictionary
has been calculated for statistical purposes.
Each parameter will be defined below. Samples of lexemes
will be discussed and compared vis-à-vis
the three dictionaries: CCELD, OLDCE and CIDEL.
Our ultimate goal will be to provide insights for producing
a new generation of learner’s English dictionaries,
i.e. to answer the question posited in the title
A detailed analysis of the corpus is provided in the appendix
of this study.
VII. Limitations of Study
The present study is restricted to the selected lexemes
mentioned in V and the heuristic checklist in IV
above. Optimal arrangement of entries, pictorial
illustrations or computerised versions of the same
three dictionaries (i.e. OLDCE, CIDEL and CCELD) will not be considered
in this study. This study is not concerned with
word etymology as well. The fact that this research
tackles three dictionaries only does not, however,
limit its scope of application to other ones.
Corpus Analysis and Discussion:
V.1. Semantic Information
is perhaps the most commonly used method of defining
a word in a dictionary. It provides a semantic analysis
of the word in terms of a number of features as
shape, type, manner, constituents, etc. all of which
pertain to what the word stands for. Consider, for
example the following entry:
Awning n canvas or plastic sheet fixed to a wall above
a door or window and stretched out as a protection
against rain or sun.
(Sinclair et al, 1990)
paraphrase enables the learner to learn that an
awning could be (1) made of canvas or plastic
(2) placed above a door or window, or (3)
used for protecting the doors or windows
The table below shows that paraphrase has been used
to a considerable degree in the three dictionaries
The Percentage of Using
the Paraphrase Method
in the Three Dictionaries
|Wd No. Para.
is the only dictionary that makes full utilisation
of paraphrase method in word definition. OLDCE
follows, and then comes CIDE.
Paraphrase is an effective device, which can be used
however in an inefficient way. It is supposed to
provide considerable details on the meaning of the
word in question. The following is an illustrative
review of how the method of paraphrase has been
used in the three dictionaries. This review will
enable us then to test the efficiency of this method
in word definition.
The way CCELD paraphrases
this word is rather poor in comparison with the
rest of dictionaries. It states that “if you dwell
somewhere, you live there”. Such a definition wouldn’t
be sufficient, for the learner is likely to be at
a loss in differentiating between dwell and
live. OLDCE provides some further
information but its paraphrase is still inefficient.
CIDE states that dwell is associated
with ‘a particular way’ but still it does not explain
how this word is distinct from live.
The three dictionaries share the meaning of exult
as “to show pleasure.” They differ however
in explaining the way it is used, as follows:
a- to show great pleasure
or happiness esp. “at someone else’s
defeat or failure” (CIDE)
b- you feel and show great happiness
and pleasure “because of some triumph
or success you have“. (CCELD)
– you speak in a way which indicates how pleased or proud you
are of something that has happened. (CCELD)
a-get great pleasure from something; rejoice greatly.
2- Fuse (n)
CIDE again is more detailed on the matter.
It states that a fuse melts when the “electric
current is too high” and so it prevents fire “or
other dangers”. CCELD
roughly states the same information. OLDCE however
is so brief as it does not denote the use of fuse
in electrical devices.
CCELD makes use of paraphrase
here, while CIDE does not define the word
at all. As for OLDCE,
it uses a narrow paraphrase in such a way as the
learner will be obliged to refer to the noun of
this adjective to understand the meaning. This way
of definition is tiring and time consuming for the
learner who has to refer every now and then to other
derivatives in other entries to fully understand
the word in question.
This item shows clearly how OLDCE is so concise in its paraphrase of lexeme.
The present item is not made clear through paraphrase,
a matter that may lead the learner to misunderstand
the whole word. This in turn will negatively affect
the idiomatic use of the word in question.
CIDE, on the other hand, makes clear the notion
of “itinerary” by distinguishing it from “plan”,
for an “itinerary” is a “detailed plan”. But still
this paraphrase is still rather vague and needs
to be more illustrated by means of specifying exactly
the very nature and the use of the signified of
the word “itinerary”.
CCELD renders a plausible paraphrase of “itinerary”
elucidating the nature of the signified meaning.
However, it still lacks some important information,
as for instance, the fact that an itinerary is a
pieces of information not given through paraphrase
in the present example are something like:
person who uses itinerary is likely to be a tourist
itinerary is likely to be used when you visit a
place that you don’t have an idea about.
major difference between the three dictionaries
lies in the first sense of the word or the first
meaning to be paraphrased. While the legal sense
comes first in CIDE, the general sense of the word (referring
to fair behavior or treatment) is dominant in the
remaining two dictionaries. In this regard, the
researcher is of the opinion that the most familiar
sense of the word should be stated first. This familiar
sense is likely to be the one a learner wants to
look up in the dictionary. The most successful dictionary,
here, would be CCELD, which seems to have divided the word
into senses on a scale of the learners’ familiarity
with the word. Each sense is paraphrased precisely
giving the learner much information on how use the
word in different contexts.
starts with the most familiar sense of the word,
i.e. “right and fair behaviour”, yet its paraphrase
is not so satisfactory as that of CCELD. CIDE begins with the very legal sense of the
word, i.e. “the putting of the law into action”.
The other senses are not mentioned here.
problem of sense arrangement occurs once again in
this item. OLDCE
begins with the most familiar sense which
is “a fastening made by tying a piece or pieces
of string, rope, etc.”, moving downward to the uncommon
senses ending with “knot” as a “unit of speed measurement”.
What distinguishes OLDCE from
the other dictionaries is the addition of another
sense of the word “ornament or decoration made of
ribbon, etc twisted and tied”. Paraphrase in this
dictionary however is still concise and could hardly
let the learner perceive and use the word properly.
CIDE begins with paraphrasing the word in its
most common sense, but then it suddenly mentions
something related to another sense, i.e. to feel
uncomfortable. Despite the inappropriateness of
sense arrangement, CIDE seems to give well-constructed and easy-to-understand
paraphrase of the senses pertaining to the word
CCELD is more elaborate in its paraphrase of
the word “knot”. It specifies that a “knot” may
occur not only in ropes and strings, but also in
any other material “where one end or part has passed
through a loop and been pulled tight”. There seems
to be a good arrangement of senses on a scale of
familiarity. The most common sense is placed before
the less common ones.
CCELD and CIDE
are roughly the same in their presentation and definition
of the word “nurture”. The problem is with OLDCE, which ignores one
of the senses, i.e. “nurturing emotions, ideas,
plans, etc.”. Even the senses it provides are not
made clear enough, for what do we expect a learner
to learn when we tell him that “to nurture” is “to
encourage the growth of something, or to nourish
something”? How can the learner be sure that he
is correctly saying, for example: “They are
nurturing their business”?
notice here that the paraphrase method has been
effectively utilised in both CCELD
This is not the case with OLDCE, which does
not seem to have successfully used the paraphrase
method, which proves to be very important in this
here is the most elaborate one. It precisely mentions
that syntax is the “arrangement of words into phrases
and phrases into sentences”. Next comes CIDE which
does not mention anything about “phrases”.
Finally comes CCELD which pays no attention to “phrases”
the above discussion we conclude that paraphrase
is an important method that may provide the learner
with significant information. It has also been obvious
that even an efficient use of paraphrase may not
lead to the learner’s full understanding of a word.
This means that such purpose could be realised only
when paraphrase goes hands in hands efficiently
with other methods.
paraphrase, dictionaries usually resort to some
items that share lexical relations with the word
under consideration for elucidating purposes. These
relations may include references to other words
of similar meaning (synonyms), broader meaning (superordinates),
opposite meaning (antonyms) or of the same semantic
field (hyponyms). Before we begin our analysis,
it is important to tackle a problem of using synonyms.
We must not, however, assume that a learner’s dictionary
should be involved in telling all possible lexical
relations, because this would fall in the domain
of a thesaurus rather than a dictionary.
seen in II.3, Hamdan and Fareh (1997) have shown
some reservation against the use of synonyms in
illustrating the meaning of a word. Arguing that
a dictionary may be a potential source of error,
they say that two synonyms may be similar in meaning
but differ in their syntactic properties. The researcher,
however, believes that this reservation should not
address a learner’s dictionaries, but rather dictionaries
of synonyms. For illustration, consider the following
citation quoted from Webster’s Dictionary of
Synonyms (WDS) in connection with the synonyms
“Buy” and “Purchase” (that are among the pairs examined
by Hamdan and Fareh (1997):
“&.the words [buy and purchase] are often used interchangeably without
loss&&. buy may almost always
be substituted for purchase
(Webster, 1951:135) emphasis added
a learner were to follow the above quotation, he
would inevitably think that both “buy” and “purchase”
enjoy the same syntactic properties.
can say for instance:
bought me a house.
He purchased me a house.
misconception may also extend to other pairs of
problem inheres only in dictionaries of synonyms.
As for learner’s dictionaries, synonyms are words
through which a sense is made clear by means of
mentioning a more common word of similar meaning.
Nevertheless, it is the DUTY of all learners’ dictionaries
to point out the question of synonymy in their front
matters warning the learner against such misusage
point worth mentioning is the fact that a dictionary
is not a reference book of syntax. If a dictionary
must allude every now and then to the syntactic
differences among synonyms, then it is likely going
to be anything but a dictionary.
present study, accordingly, will consider synonyms,
antonyms and hyponyms as important advantageous
devices for meaning clarification. The following
table shows to what extent the three dictionaries
observe lexical relations:
The Percentage of Using
the Lexical Relations Method
in the Three Dictionaries
|Wd No. Lex.
seems that sense relations have been observed and
employed to a considerable degree by CCELD. Following comes CIDE and then OLDCE.
It should be noted, however, that CIDE
and OLDCE sometimes provide synonyms implicitly
in their paraphrase of words.
far as CIDE
is concerned, a close scrutiny reveals that this
dictionary resorts to sense relations, namely synonyms,
to serve other purposes than elucidating the meaning
of a word(Consider
relevant discussion on “Awning” and “Buy” for example.)
synonyms and one superordinate are mentioned in
CCELD, while CIDE observes other synonyms
“sunshade” and “sunblind”. OLDCE states no
synonyms. Although synonyms in this example are
not erroneous, the absence of these synonyms may
not prevent the learner’s full understanding and
consequently use of the word in question, which
has been fully explained by paraphrase.
CIDE‘s mentioning of the
two synonyms is intended to differentiate between
various usages of different varieties of English.
CIDE says here that “Awning”
is mainly used in British English, while “sunshade”
and “sunblind” are used to express the same meaning
in the USA and Australia respectively.
paraphrase of “dwell” attempted by CCELD has been insufficient
to provide for a good understanding of the same
item. A superordinate “reside” is placed to fill
in the gap. This is not the case with OLDCE,
which implicitly states that “dwell” = “reside”
in terms of meaning. It is now obvious that while
a dictionary may discern the relationship between
two words as synonyms, other ones may consider them
as hyponym and superordinate in a semantic field.
CCELD specifies two superordinates: “rejoice”
and “say” in addition to two synonyms: “glory” and
“crow”. These lexical items are not placed randomly,
but in such a way as to the learner some knowledge
of lexical relations with the word in each relevant
sense. This will enhance the learner’s understanding
of the polysemous nature of some words. CIDE
should have resorted to such synonyms to fill in
the gap created by a brief paraphrase.
CCELD uses only two synonyms: “purchase” and
“gain” in addition to one superordinate “bribe”.
Other synonyms should have been stated such as those
observed (implicitly) in OLDCE.
In its paraphrase of
the word, OLDCE mentions
such synonyms as “purchase”, “obtain”, “believe”
and “delay”. CIDE, on the other hand, mentions
such synonyms as “pay for” and “believe” (referred
to by CIDE as GUIDE WORDS) for purposes of
entry design. CIDE uses such “guide words”
to help the learner find which meaning he wants
of the dictionaries has observed the antonym “sell”.
“Channel” is the only
synonym mentioned in CCELD, CIDE and
OLDCE. Other synonyms could
have been given including “cesspool”, “sink”, “drain”
and “sump”, but paraphrase is sufficient in explaining
meaning of this item could be grasped without resorting
to lexical relations. In this example, we note how
synonyms could be used inappropriately. CCELD gives “programme”
as a synonym of the subject item, which is totally
incorrect. A programme is far distinct in meaning
from an itinerary. This will lead us to conclude
that an overuse of synonyms could be unhealthy.
A better synonym could be something like “guidebook”,
while “programme”, “schedule” and “timetable” could
be stated as co-hyponyms.
“Pussy” in its informal
or slang usage refers to the “female genitals”.
There are of course other slang and informal synonyms
of the word, none of which is mentioned by any of
the three dictionaries. The researcher believes
that a dictionary in explaining such an item must
provide the more formal or technical synonyms that
could be used safely without causing any kind of
embarrassment or inconvenience. Such synonyms could
be like the more common term “vagina” or the more
8- Quirk (n)
synonym “idiosyncrasy” is used by CCELD.
This synonym, however, may be somewhat vague for
non-native speakers of English. It is recommended
therefore that other synonyms are stated such as
“eccentricity, peculiarity, distinctive
feature, trademark, mannerism, foible”
Formality and Technicality
learner must be kept aware of the social attitude
of native speakers towards a specific word. Any
use of a word in an inappropriate context may lead
the learner to an embarrassing situation or may
cause him to utter an odd, even awkward, utterance
in the foreign language. It is an advantage for
a dictionary, therefore, to provide where necessary,
in what situation the item could be used, such as
in “informal”, “formal”, “frozen” or other situations.
The present study shows that in terms of formality
and technicality, CCELD
seems to dominate, followed by CIDE
and then by OLDCE
as shown in the table below:
The Percentage of Using
Formality and Technicality
Method in the Three Dictionaries
|Wd. No. Formality
above table tells us that the three dictionaries
do not cover all items in terms of formality. Consider
for instance the following examples:
does not observe as
formal the following items:
itinerary, owe, ruse, and your
for OLDCE, these are:
nurture, ruse and syntax
-CCELD ignores the formality
itinerary, and owe
also the verb “buy”. CIDE
seems to be the only one to state that the expression
“to buy yourself” is used in the military in British
Collocations, Idioms and Fixed Expressions
the meaning of a word, its lexical relations with
other words and its level of formality does not
guarantee an idiomatic use of the same word. There
is in every language a specific non-systematic way
of combining words together. A collocation is simply
a habitual co-occurrence of two or more words. For
instance, you can say “I go home”
but not “I go house“, or “green
with jealousy” and not “blue
with jealously“. Also, one can discern
the meaning of the collocation through the accumulation
of the meanings of its various constituents. Idioms
on the other hand are more “fossilised” due to the
fact that they are syntactically restricted and
that they are rather metaphorical as to the meaning
of the whole idiom is not the accumulation of the
meanings of its constituents. Consider the following
kicked the bucket. (= He died).
The bucket was kicked by him.
outstanding problems and difficulties besetting
the lexicographer, in this regard, could be summarised
in the following questions:
1- Where should collocations and idioms be extracted
2- How could it be tested that the selected collocations
and idioms are actual and real utterances said by
native speakers of English? How could one be sure
that an idiom or collocation one chooses are not
3- Are the selected idioms and collocations up-to-date,
or have they become obsolete?
learner may understand the meaning of specific words,
but may combine them erroneously, in terms of collocational
and idiomatic meaning. Thus, providing some collocations
and idioms within the dictionary entry seems to
and idioms grow with the growth of everyday language
and are unlikely to be limited. Thus, they and may
not be comprehensively encompassed in the learners’
dictionary. The most commonly used ones, however,
should be stated and explained. In the following,
we shall try to see how much collocations the three
dictionaries provided in this field. The table below
shows the percentage of using the method of idioms
and collocations in the three dictionaries:
The Percentage of Using
Idioms and Collocations
Method in the Three Dictionaries
|Wd. No. CIE.
appendix 2, a table shows how the three dictionaries
have provided for collocations and idioms.
V.1.5. Illustrative Examples of Usage
close our analysis in the semantic domain with illustrative
examples of usage, which are perhaps the most important
feature a learner’s dictionary must exhibit. A learner
may understand the meaning of a word through paraphrase,
yet he may be unable to use it correctly and appropriately.
A review of the most recent English-English learner’s
dictionaries would tell us that the current trend
is towards using authentic illustrative examples
of actual use by native speakers of English. The
following table shows the extent to which the three
dictionaries have used this method:
The Percentage of Using
the Illustrative Examples
Method in the Three Dictionaries
again, we have to consider an important question:
do the three dictionaries use the method of illustrative
examples to the optimal degree? Or in other words,
is this method efficiently utilised?
order for an illustrative example to function efficiently,
it should (among other things):
1-be actually said by a native
speaker (it should not be the lexicographer’s own
2-provide the user with some basic
syntactic characteristics of the word.
3-provide the user with some basic
semantic characteristics of the word (collocations,
properties include questions on transitivity, word
order, countability, gradability etc. This information
has been on the whole provided in examples by the
for instance the following examples:
1- Buy (v)
me buy you a drink (CCELD) è “buy” + Oi + Od
can’t buy happiness (OLDCE )
è “buy” + Od
also the following self-explanatory example given
bought his mother some flowers/ He bought some flowers
to his mother.
CCELD is the only dictionary
here that illustrates the use of the word. This
use, however, seems to be a luxury. “The world of
cybernetics” or “the cybernetics department” are
unlikely to add to our knowledge of the word in
terms of its syntactic or semantic properties. For
that reason, it seems that CCELD and OLDCE have
preferred not to give any example.
are three examples in CIDE, and one in each
of COBUILD and OLDCE.
CIDE stresses two important
uses of the verb “dwell”, so we can say: “dwell
in + Place” or “Dwell with + Someone”.
have been given in each dictionary illustrating
how to use the word with ‘in/at’. CIDE, however,
adds ‘exult over’.
We owe you our thanks / We owe our thanks to you
owe my parents an enormous amount / I owe an enormous
amount to my parents. (CIDE)
way of examining the efficiency in using the illustrative
examples methods is by answering the following question:
How many idioms and expressions or collocations
have I learnt from the examples provided in the
three dictionaries? The answer is illustrated through
the following table:
The Efficiency of the
Illustrative Examples Method
|Col + Idioms
above table tells us that CCELD and CIDE
are more useful than OLDCE
on terms of illustrative
examples efficiency. It is worth mentioning that
to be focusing, in an unjustifiable manner, and
relying on condensed examples and phrases rather
than clauses or complete sentences.
III.2 Grammatical Information
of the main properties that distinguish a learner’s
dictionary is that grammatical information is more
detailed than an ordinary dictionary. Part of speech,
for instance, could be said to be ancillary in any
dictionary but the learner’s. Take the following
Arabic, to use the word “tanakkara” is used as an intransitive
verb, while in English the counterpart of this word
is usually transitive:
– tanakkara al-rajulu bithiyabi shurti
The man disguised himself as a policeman.)
a learner’s dictionary be oblivious to this fact,
it would be more amenable to causing perplexity
and language interference problems in the use of
words by a non-native speaker.
is interesting to note that CIDE disperses
many syntactic rules and grammatical information,
not only within word entries, but also in the course
of its body. After explaining the word “compare”,
for example, CIDE draws a frame in which
the concept of comparing and grading is explained
and discussed elaborately.
the ensuing sections of this part, we shall look
into three basic elements of grammatical properties
of words, i.e. the part of speech, verb argument
structure and classification of lexemes (other than
information is restricted in this paper to: part
of speech, verb argument structure and grammatical
classification of non-verbs.
V.2.1 Part of Speech
The part of speech
has been fully observed by the three dictionaries
with respect to all words of the present corpus.
CCELD, however, has an advantage over the other two dictionaries for its clear labeling
of the part of speech. All labels referring to nouns,
adjectives, verbs, etc. are placed on the left margin
with respect to each sense of the word, so these
labels are easy to notice and easy to understand.
The other two dictionaries have preferred to place
the label directly after the pronunciation or the
sense of the word.
V.2.2 Verb Argument Structure
The most detailed grammatical information in a learner’s dictionary is that
given to verbs since:
“verb syntax is essentially the syntax of the clause, and it is where
there are probably more differences between languages.
The verb lexeme in a clause determines the potential
occurrence of the other elements in the clause.”
Of the twenty
six words of the corpus, only six words are verbs.
These are: buy, dwell, exult, nurture, owe and utilise.
Other words of the corpus that could be used as
nouns are excluded, simply because they have been
randomly chosen as non-verbs.
As we have mentioned earlier, grammatical properties, including verb argument
structure, are clearer in CCELD than the other two dictionaries. Not all the selected verbs are covered in
terms of their arguments. Consider the following
Verb Argument Structure
|No. of Verbs
|Wd. No. explaining VAS
The verb ‘buy’ is excluded form the verb argument structure analysis.
CCELD states that “dwell” is followed by an adverbial, but the illustrative example
is a bit “syntactically” perplexing. The problem
is with the word “somewhere”, for this may impede
a learner’s interpreting of the word. After reading
the definition of the word, an Arab EFL learner
has produced the following sentence ‘which is totally
* He has dwelt Amman.
S V ‘somewhere’
OLDCE, on the other hand, does not state that ‘dwell’ could occur in an NP-VP-PP
structure, through it does say that ‘dwell’ is intransitive.
The problem is resolved in CIDE, which states that ‘dwell’ is a verb that is ‘always’ followed by an adverb
or preposition. Two illustrative examples are given
to show how the word is used with the prepositions
‘in’ and ‘with’.
The word ‘dwell’ should have been syntactically defined as: int., V+A/PP.
The syntactic information regarding ‘exult’ is made implicit, through illustrative
examples, in CIDE and in OLDCE, the latter of which provides some vague symbols like ‘I,
Ipr, It’. Although illustrative examples help us
understand the syntactic properties of the word
in CIDE and OLDCE, these properties seem to be much clearer in CCELD. Consider the following syntactic features of ‘exult’ as mentioned in CCELD:
a-The first sense of ‘exult’ is usually used with an adverb
b-The second sense of “exult” is used after a quotation
c-The third sense of ‘exult’ is usually used with an adverb
3- Nurture (v)
There is nothing remarkable concerning the syntactic properties of this word,
as the three dictionaries mention that it is transitive
and takes an object.
CIDE states that the word is stative and cannot be used in the progressive tense
as to say: “is owing”. This has been indicated by
the mentioning of: ‘[T not be owing]. CCELD however is more elaborate and clear in terms of the syntactic features of the
different senses when specifying the following arguments:
a. V+O b. V+O+O c. V+O+A (to) d. V+O+O
e. V+O+O f. V+O+A+ (to)
OLDCE is still vague in its representation as it provides mere symbols lacking illustration,
which is not a good feature of a learner’s dictionary.
Nothing of much importance could be said regarding this word, as the three dictionaries
state that the word is transitive, and provide illustrative
It seems, however, that none of the three dictionaries have indicated whether
a verb is stative (cannot occur in the progressive)
or dynamic (can occur in the progressive).
V.2.3 Classification of Non-verb Lexemes
Here, we talk about noun countability and adjective gradability. These two features
should be observed in learner’s dictionaries, because
of the lack of a one-to-one correspondence among
words of different languages in this regard.
Beside verbs, the twenty-six-word corpus incorporates twenty nouns and adjectives.
By observing the countability of noun, a learner
becomes sure that he may derive a plural of this
noun, or use an indefinite article before it. Gradability,
on the other hand, would inform us if we can derive
the comparative and superlative forms by adding
‘-er’ and ‘est’ respectively, or pre-modifying it
by “very”. The three dictionaries, once again, differ
in using this method. The following table is illustrative:
Classification of Lexemes
(Other than Verbs)
CCELD, therefore, makes more use of the classification feature. The opposite is true
for OLDCE, which does not seem to rely to a large degree on countability and gradability.
As for adjectives, Quirk et al (1972) observe that:
“adjectives are distinguished positively by their ability to function attributively
and/or their ability to function predicatively after
intensive verbs, including ‘seem’ ”
(Quirk et al. 1972: 234)
Two adjectives appear in the corpus, namely “hypochondriac” and “xenophobic”.
None of the three dictionaries provide an explicit
explanation on the correct use of these adjectives
(i.e. in terms of attributivity and predicativity).
CCELD and CIDE at least illustrate
through examples how these adjectives are used predicatively.
OLDCE is short on this specific point.
The three dictionaries, on the whole, are not satisfactory when it comes to
specifying the kinds of adjectives.
CIDE, however, is (grammatically speaking) distinguished from the other two dictionaries
with an important and significant feature. It does
provide every now and then grammatical and syntactic
information that would be of great assistance to
the learner. Check the said dictionary and consider,
for instance, the front matter (pages xiii-xviii).
It includes brief but simple and easy-to-grasp information
on word classes: their forms and functions.
V.3. Morphological Information
Morphology deals with the internal structure of words in terms of their derivations
and inflections. The question that arises in this
study regarding morphological investigation is:
does a dictionary provide the learner with the derivations
and inflections of a word?
Table (9) below shows how CCELD has been keen in providing all possible
morphological information of the word within the
same entry. This does not seem the case with CIDE
(Derivation and Inflection)
|Total of Words
Examples form CCELD are: ‘awnings’ for ‘awning”, ‘bought’ for ‘buy’,
‘exulting’ for exult’, etc. An example for CIDE
is: ‘itinerarition’ for ‘itinerary’. As for OLDCE
an example is ‘lustrously’ for ‘lustre’.
V.4. Ancillary Information
It is true that paraphrase is perhaps the most important part of the definition
of a word, but it is also a fact that in most dictionaries,
lexicographers tend to provide some additional ancillary
information. Such ancillary information may provide
the learner with a further degree of knowledge concerning
the word in question. These pieces of information
are ancillary, as they may be omitted altogether
from the entry without affecting the learner’s understanding
of the word.
A problem, however, may arise on the surface if we take into account the diversity
of learners’ levels of education. A beginner, for
instance, may find every single detail important
for learning the word, while an advanced learner
may find a lot of methods in dictionaries nothing
but a luxury, that he can do without.
Ancillary information may include regional dialects, pronunciations, variations
of usage, formality and technicality etc. For the
purposes of the present study, ancillary information
will be restricted to pronunciation and variation
With regard to the British pronunciation, all words of the corpus have been
observed in CCELD and CIDE. As for
OLDCE, it ignores one single word only, that is ‘xenophobic’.
Beside the British pronunciation, CIDE provides for American and Australian pronunciations where applicable. Examples
are: ‘awning’, ‘cybernetics’, ‘gutter’, ‘quirk’,
CCELD observes the British pronunciation only, simply because it states that the
dictionary is directed for those who are mainly
interested in learning British English.
The three dictionaries use the same standard phonetic symbols.
V.4.2 Variation of Usage
It has been stated above in II.1 that American English and British English may
differ in using the same word semantically and syntactically.
It has also been stated that a good learner’s dictionary
may have to mention these differences of usage.
The term ‘variation of usage’ will be used here
to refer to either of the following two notions:
(1) variation in spelling, and (2) syntactic and/or
semantic variation in usage.
Variation of Usage
|Total of Words
|Wd. No. VAR
In this arena CIDE, dominates. 30.77% of the total words in the corpus
have been observed in terms of variation of usage
among British English, American English and Australian
English. Consider the following for examples pertaining
to the present analysis:
CIDE draws the attention of the learner that this word is mainly used in British
English, while other synonyms are used to refer
to the same meaning in Australian English “sunshade”
and Australian English “sunblind”. English and American
pronunciations are provided.
2- Buy (v)
CIDE observes that the following expressions, that involve the verb ‘buy’ are used
only in British English:
bought in (=bought for future use)
buy yourself (=you pay a sum of money so that
you can leave earlier)
It also observes the following expression as used in informal American English:
buy the farm (you die)
CCELD states one of the senses of the form as used in informal English. CIDE,
however, observes the following usage:
fuse has gone / has broken (British
and Australian English) (The neutral expression
is “The fuse has blown”)
Consider the following usages observed by CIDE and CCELD:
‘Justice’ is a judge (American English)
‘Justice’ as a part of a title of a judge (British English) [CIDE adds
that it is also used as such in Australian English)
‘Justice of the peace’ (American English as CIDE specifies)
Of the three dictionaries, OLDCE
does not seem to give much consideration to this
VI. Conclusion and Recommendations:
This study has been concerned with three dictionaries: Oxford Advanced Learner’s
Dictionary of Current English, Collins Cobuild
English Language Dictionary and Cambridge
International Dictionary of English. A set of
methods has been set up in the form of a heuristicchecklist
and twenty six words have been randomly chosen to
form the corpus of the study. The corpus has been
examined with respect to three major domains: Semantic
Component, Grammatical Information and Ancillary
Information. The findings have been organised and
provided in the appendices of this study.
The findings of the present piece of research have proved useful in evaluating
how much the learner learns in consulting any of
the three dictionaries named above. In other words,
the ultimate goal of our discussion is to arrive
at a point where we can understand whether the learner’s
knowledge with respect to a word has been enhanced
or not. Following is an overall analysis and evaluation
of the three dictionaries:
Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English
OLDCE has proved to be somehow insufficient and inefficient in the three domains
of the heuristicchecklist. Paraphrase is rather
concise, illustrative examples are limited and restricted
to fragments and phrases instead of clauses and
sentences. Lexical relations are also rare (23.08%).
There are, however, a few examples illustrating
the use of words, though these examples are in the
form of fragments and phrases rather than full sentences
or clauses. These illustrative examples are also
poor in collocations and fixed expressions.
In the syntactic standpoint, OLDCE
pays attention to all verbs of the corpus in terms
of their argument structures. This is a good advantage,
needs to revise the nature and positions of symbols
in this regard. These symbols have proved to be
difficult to understand by the learner, and should
be placed on the margin of every sense so they can
be clearly and easily identified. ‘Stative” and
“Dynamic’ labels should also be taken into account.
OLDCE still needs to further its presentation in terms of noun countability and adjective
classification (gradable and non-gradable, attributive
It is optional for OLDCE
to enter the variation of usage in international
English as a new feature or method of defining a
word. Also, it is not obligatory for it to display
the pronunciations of British English and American
Cobuild English Language Dictionary
On the semantic level, this dictionary has been satisfactory in providing a
good paraphrase of words, lexical relations including
synonyms, antonyms and superordinates. Formality
and technicality have been observed in 42.31% of
the words, but what gives CCELD advantage
over other dictionaries is its use of illustrative
examples with respect to all the twenty six words
of the corpus. CCELD has passed the efficiency
test we have previously posited for examining this
use against the question: “How much do these illustrative
examples provide for collocations and idioms?” The
result is amusing, 64 collocations and expressions
could be learnt from the twenty six words definitions.
On the syntactic level, CCELD has been keen in providing all argument
structures of each single sense of the 6 verbs incorporated
in the corpus. Noun countability has been fully
observed, but the dictionary needs to specify explicitly
the gradability of adjectives. The illustrative
examples should be reviewed in a manner that they
would contain much syntactic information of the
word when it comes in a clause or a sentence.
CCELD has well observed, as well, the derivational and inflectional forms of the
majority of words concerned. CELD states
its main interest in the introductory as the target
learner of British English. In view of this, it
would not be obligatory that CCELD observes
the variations of spelling, pronunciation and lexical
usage among the various English varieties. It has
however, in some cases, provided for information
on specific expressions used only by the American
3- Cambridge International Dictionary of English
The dictionary on the whole is interesting and satisfactory, with some reservations
on the style of presentation. CIDE, nevertheless,
is characterised by the organisation of its word-senses
and labeling each sense with a “Guide Word” that
facilitate the process of looking up a word. Syntactic
information and rules are also made available in
the front matter as well as in the body (where appropriate).
Illustrative examples are also efficiently utilised.
These provide the learner with some syntactic and
semantic features of the word concerned. Collocations,
idioms and expressions exist. CIDE, moreover,
has the following unique features:
1- It pays attention to the pronunciations of other varieties of English,
such as American English and Australian English
in addition to British English.
2-It warns the learner of using false friends. This will help reduce
the interference of the learner’s mother tongue
in his learning of English.
3-It keeps the learner aware of the semantic differences in using words
by various English varieties. An example has been
noted in the above discussion, when CIDE
states that while British English uses ‘awning’,
American English uses ‘sunshade’ and Australian
English uses ‘sunblind’ to refer to the same meaning.
CIDE is on the whole presentable, meaning that is comfortable to use, yet it needs
a re-arrangement of its symbols regarding the verb
argument structure features and other ones pertaining
to other classes of words such as adjectives, nouns,
“What should a learner’s dictionary include?” This question, the title
of the paper, should be answered by both the learner
and the lexicographer. On the one hand, the learner
should define his needs and know exactly whether
a dictionary he has bought fulfills his needs in
learning a foreign language. On the other hand,
the lexicographer should be aware of the real needs
in all the fields according to the heuristic checklist
devised in this paper.
We recommend also that further studies touch on some areas not covered in this
paper such as: overall presentation, cultural information
necessary for understanding a word or one of its
senses, word etymology, false friends, computerized
versions of learner’s dictionaries.
The learner’s dictionary is in fact not a book of syntax or morphology, i.e.
such pieces of information should not be very elaborate
in the dictionary, but it should be satisfactory
when the learner learns a word or one of its senses.
As far as ancillary information is concerned, it is recommended that a dictionary
provides such information as: tables that shows
frequency of words, irregular verbs, colors and
words ending with certain suffixes like -logy, -ism,
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& C. Meriam Co. Publishers, USA.
Ahulu, S. 1998. Grammatical Variation in International
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Cambridge. Cambridge University Press.
Bobda, A. 1998. British or American English: Does
it matter?. English Today, 14(4):
13-18, Cambridge. Cambridge University Press.
Cowise, Anthony (ed.). 1995. Oxford Advanced
Learner’s Dictionary of Current English. Oxford.
Oxford University Press.
J. and Fareh, S.1997. “Dictionaries as a potential
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H. 1996. Words and Their Meanings. London.
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Procter et al. 1997. (low-price edition), Cambridge
International Dictionary of English. Cambridge.
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Quirk, R. Greenbaum, S. Leech, G. and Svartvik,
J. 1972. A Grammar of Contemporary English.
10- Sinclair, J. et al. 1997 (reprinted edition). Collins Cobuild Dictionary
of Idioms, Williams Collins Sons & Co. Ltd., UK
J. et. al. 1990. Collins Cobuild English Language
Dictionary. London. Williams Collins Sons &
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British English Usage in Longman Dictionary of English
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2- Gethin, A. and Gunnenmark, Erik. Learning Vocabulary1. Retrieved from:
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4- Szynalski, Tomasz and Wojcik, Michal. Review
of the Collins COBUILD English Dictionary
for Advanced Learners Retrieved from:
http://www.antimoon.com/how/cobuild-review.htm on January 20, 2003
CO. = collocation