Before You Buy a German Dictionary

Important Things to Consider

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German dictionaries come in many shapes, sizes, price ranges, and language variations. They range in format from online and CD-ROM software to large multivolume print editions resembling an encyclopedia.

Smaller editions may have only 5,000 to 10,000 entries, while larger hardcover versions offer over 800,000 entries. You get what you pay for: the more words, the more money.

Choose wisely! But it's not the mere amount of words alone that make a good German dictionary. There are a few other factors that need to be considered. Here are a few tips on how to pick the right dictionary for your German learning.

Consider Your Needs

Not everyone needs a German dictionary with 500,000 entries, but the typical paperback dictionary has only 40,000 entries or less. You'll get very frustrated using a dictionary that's not up to your needs. Note that a dual-language dictionary with 500,000 entries is actually only 250,000 for each language. Don't get a dictionary with fewer than 40,000 entries.

One Language or Two

Monolingual, German-only dictionaries offer several disadvantages, especially when you are just at the beginning of your German learning. For intermediate and advanced learners they might serve as additional dictionaries to broaden one's ability to circumscribe certain things.

While they usually contain more entries they are also very heavy and impractical for daily use. Those are dictionaries for serious language students, not for the average German learners. If you are a beginner I strongly recommend that you get a German-English dictionary to be very clear about what a word might mean. Take a look at a few

Buying It At Home or in Germany

At times I have come across German learners who bought their dictionaries in Germany because they were simply very expensive in their home country. The problem often was that those were English-German dictionaries, meaning they were made for Germans who were learning English. Which had some huge disadvantages.

As the user was German they didn't need to write the German articles or plural forms into the dictionary which made those books simply useless for German learners. So be aware of such issues and pick a dictionary that was written for learners of German as a foreign language (=Deutsch als Fremdsprache).

Software or Print Versions

Even a few years ago there was no substitute for a real print dictionary you could hold in your hands, but nowadays online German dictionaries are the way to go. They are extremely helpful and can save you a lot of time.

They also have one huge advantage over any paper dictionary: They weigh absolutely nothing. In the age of the smartphone, you'll always have some of the best dictionaries right at hand wherever you are.

The advantages of those dictionaries are just amazing. Nevertheless, offers its own English-German glossaries and links to many online German dictionaries that can still be quite helpful.

Dictionaries for Special Purposes

Sometimes a regular German dictionary, no matter how good it may be, just isn't adequate for the job. That's when a medical, technical, business, scientific or other industrial-strength dictionary is called for. Such specialized dictionaries tend to be expensive, but they fill a need. Some are available online.

The Essentials

Whatever kind of dictionary you decide on, make sure it has the basics: the article, which means the gender of nouns, noun plurals, genitive endings of nouns, the cases for the German prepositions and at least 40,000 entries.

Cheap print dictionaries often lack such information and are not worth buying. Most online dictionaries even provide you with audio samples of how a word is pronounced. It's advisable to look for a natural pronunciation like e.g. linguee.

Original Article by: Hyde Flippo

Edited, 23rd of June 2015 by: Michael Schmitz

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Flippo, Hyde. "Before You Buy a German Dictionary." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Flippo, Hyde. (2023, April 5). Before You Buy a German Dictionary. Retrieved from Flippo, Hyde. "Before You Buy a German Dictionary." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 5, 2023).