How to use the OED

For further information on each of these tools, please see the relevant sections below.

 

Browse the dictionary

Browse the dictionary from A-Z, explore using the word wheel, or search the dictionary by performing a quick search or advanced search. The Browse panel is in the centre of the Home page and in the top right-hand corner of every other page.

 

Browse the dictionary

To browse the A-Z dictionary entries, much as you would a printed dictionary:

  • Choose ‘Dictionary’ from the Browse panel.
  • A list of entries beginning with A, n. is displayed. Each consists of the headword (the name of the entry) and the entry’s first line.
  • Browse the list using the cursor and/or Next » and « Previous.
  • To view an entry from the list, click on its headword.
  • To move quickly to a point in the results list, type the letter you want into the “jump to alphabetical…” input box and click . E.g. typing g moves the list to the first matching entry beginning with g.
  • The standard number of results is 20 per page, but you can alter this (up to a maximum of 100) by clicking one of the Items per page options.


Word wheel

You can also browse the entries using the word wheel.

The word wheel, headed ‘Jump to:’, contains the list of all the entries in the dictionary. It always opens with the most recently viewed entry highlighted in the centre of the list. Click on any entry to display it.

Browse the word wheel:

  • A page at a time using arrows at the top and bottom of the list
  • By typing the first few letters of the word you want into the input box above the list. The wheel will move to the closest match keyed in.

Searching the OED using the Quick Search

The quick search finds main dictionary entries, such as alphabet, break, xylophone. It also finds phrases and compounds listed within main entries, such as to look up or alphabet book, and variant spellings such as dictionarie.

The Quick search box is in the centre left of the Home page and at the top of every other page of the dictionary.

In a Quick search, it is not necessary to type punctuation or worry about special characters, accents, hyphens, or capital letters. Typing Conservative, conservative, or CONSERVATIVE returns the same results. However, if you do want to take case into account, use the Advanced search and click the Case-sensitive checkbox. When the box is checked the search term Conservative finds only Conservative. It is also best to use the Advanced search if you want to find a specific accented or hyphenated term.


Running a Quick search

  • Type or paste the word you want to find in the Search box.
  • Click ‘GO’ or press Enter.
  • If there is one result for your search, the entry opens automatically.
  • If there is more than one result, a Results list is displayed. Each of the results consists of a headword and an excerpt from the first definition of the entry or subentry. Click on any of the headwords in the list to open its entry. Results will be listed alphabetically, but you can also choose to order them by frequency or date, or to jump to a particular alphabetical point by typing the letter you want into the input box and clicking ‘GO’.
  • If there are no matching results, you are offered a list of closest matches alphabetically.


Wildcard searching

A quick search will find your term if it is a main entry, subentry, or variant spelling. The quick search will not recognize a misspelling. If you do not know how to spell a word, you can use a wildcard character in your search.

A wildcard is a symbol which stands for any character. Two wildcards are available. The question mark ? represents the occurrence of any one single character, and the asterisk * represents the occurrence of any number of characters (or no character at all).

A search with a wildcard retrieves all results which contain matching terms. For example:

  • c?t finds cat, cot, cut
  • c*t finds cat, caught, commencement, conflict, consent, cot, cut, etc.
  • Wildcards are useful if you do not know how to spell a word, if you are not sure in what form the term you want appears in the dictionary, or if you want to find several terms beginning with the same root.
  • The search term *sychok?n?s?s finds psychokinesis
  • The term colo*r matches color and colour
  • The term chorograph* finds chorographer, chorographic, chorographical, and chorographically


Viewing search results as a timeline

To view results in the form of a timeline, click Timeline.

The results are displayed as a graph illustrating their usage by century. Move the cursor over a bar to view the results for that time period, and follow the link back to the results if you wish.


Widening your search

The results of a Quick search are main entries. The Widen search? option is a quick way of extending your search to phrases, definitions, etymologies, or the full text. Click on any of the text areas (e.g. » definitions) to display matching results.

There are two ways to refine your results:

  • Filtering them using the ‘Refine by’ filters to the right of the results list. You can narrow down your results to only those matching a specific part of speech, subject, date, etc.
  • Using the ‘Refine search’ option to run an Advanced search on the results lists.

Search the OED using the Advanced Search

An Advanced search is a full search of the entire dictionary text. It finds your term wherever it occurs in the dictionary. This could be in the form of an entry name, part of another word’s definition, in a quotation, etc. An Advanced search also allows you to search for words that occur near one another, such as bread before butter.

It is not necessary to type punctuation or worry about special characters, accents, hyphens, or capital letters. Typing Conservative, conservative, or CONSERVATIVE returns the same results.
However, if you do want to take case into account, click the Case-sensitive checkbox. When the box is checked the search term Conservative finds only Conservative.

If you want to find a specific accented or hyphenated term, enter it into the search box and make sure Exact characters is checked. When Exact characters is selected, a search for Café finds Café only, and a search for no-one finds no-one only.

You can enter special characters using the character palette just below the input box. Open the palette by clicking on it. Then click on any of the letters to paste it into the search box. Special characters can also be pasted into the input box via Character Map, using the keyboard equivalents given in Character Map, by typing the Unicode characters, using Alt key codes, via a regional keyboard, or by pasting them into the input box from another source.


Running an Advanced search

Here’s how to run the simplest search:

  • Open the Advanced search page by clicking Advanced search under the Search box at the top of the page (or in the centre of the Home page).
  • Type the word or phrase you want to find into the main search box at the top of the page.
  • Click ‘search’.
  • The results are displayed in the Results list. Each of the results consists of a headword and an excerpt from the first definition of the entry or subentry. Click on any of the headwords in the list to open its entry. Results will be listed alphabetically, but you can also choose to order them by frequency or date, or to jump to a particular alphabetical point by typing the letter you want into the input box and clicking ‘GO’.
  • A message is displayed if there are no results.
  • You can build on this basic search procedure in the ways outlined below.

     


Choosing the scope of your search

The scope determines the kind of results you get from a search. By default, your results are returned by entry, just as in a Quick search. But a typical entry is divided into senses and for each of the senses there are usually a number of quotations. In an Advanced search you also have the option to return your results by sense or by quotations.

You choose the scope of your search using the tabs marked Entries, Senses, and Quotations at the top of the Advanced search panel.

 

  • Entries:
    this is the default scope. When this is selected, your search returns a list of entries. For example, a search for headache lists all the entries which contain this word.

 

  • Senses: a search on Senses returns individual senses within entries. A search for headache lists all the senses which contain this word.
  • Quotations: a search on Quotations returns individual quotations within entries. A search for headache lists all the quotations which contain this word.


Choosing your search area

This is the type of dictionary text you choose to search in an Advanced search. You choose your search area from the list box on the right of the search box, which is headed Full Text.

When you look at a typical entry you will see that it is divided into different sections. In addition to the main definition text for each of the senses of the entry, there is often information on variant spellings, etymology, quotations, etc. By default, an Advanced search searches the entire text of the entries, but you can confine your search area to a number of other areas, if you prefer.

Click on the Full text list box and make your choice from the list.

  • Full text is the entire text of all the entries in the dictionary. It includes the entry names as well as spellings, definitions, etymologies, and quotations. A search on the full text of the dictionary is the broadest possible search.
  • Headword confines your search to the main titles of entries.
  • Lemma restricts your search to compounds and phrases which appear within the entries. (E.g. a Lemma search on ladder finds the lemma aerial ladder in the entry aerial, adj.
  • Variant spelling searches the dictionary’s variant spellings for your term. (A search for color finds this as a variant spelling, for example, in the entries choler, colour, hypercolour, and versicolour.)
  • Definitions searches the area of the text which contains all the defined senses or meanings of the entry. There is a definition for every sense of the entry. For example, the definition of the entry marble, n., sense 1.a is:
  • Etymology searches the text which contains information on the origin of the word. Etymology – Language searches language names only (e.g., Low German, Dutch, Frisian). Etymology – Cited Form searches the cited word form only (e.g., brein, *bragno, etc.).
  • Labels are used to give brief information, usually in abbreviated form, on the context in which that term is used. For instance, a label will give a term’s regional origin (e.g. U.S., Australia), the subject area from which it derives (e.g. Biology, Chemistry, Music), the status or level of language to which it belongs (e.g. slang, dialect), its grammatical function (e.g. plural, collective), and the type of meaning assigned to a word in a particular context (figurative, specific).
  • Quotations are the examples from print and manuscript sources which illustrate each sense of an entry. (Quotations are shown by default but you have the option to hide them.) There are usually quotations for every sense of the headword. You can choose to search all quotations or confine your search to the text of the first quotation in a sense, i.e. the earliest recorded evidence for the use of a sense (1st Quotation), authors (Quotation Author), dates (Quotation Date), the titles of quoted works (Quotation Title), or the text of quotations (Quotation Text). Choose the appropriate option from the list.


Using filters

A filter enables you to narrow your search to entries which match a particular criterion (e.g., words of Native American origin, slang terms, terms whose first use is dated 1960–69, etc.). Two or more filters may be combined in a search. Filters may be combined with search terms, but you can also search on the basis of a filter alone. Filters include:

  • Language of Origin: the linguistic origin of a term (e.g., European languages)
  • Usage: how the word is used (e.g., derogatory, ironic)
  • Region: where (geographically) the term is used (e.g., Caribbean)
  • Subject: its subject as designated in the dictionary (e.g., Arts, Logic)
  • For the above filters, you can click the relevant Browse option (e.g., Browse origin ») to display the available filters. Choose a filter from the list by clicking on it. Alternatively, if you know the name of the filter, begin typing it directly into the input box. An autocomplete prompt will appear to help you key in the filter in the correct form.

    Other filters include:

  • Date of entry: date of the first quoted use of the term. Type your chosen date into the input box. You can type in a single date (for example, 1965), a range of dates (using the format 1970-1975, for example), or an open date range. For this option, use the format ‘-1401’ (entries dated 1401 and earlier) or ‘1910-‘ (entries dated 1910 and later). To restrict your results to current or obsolete entries or senses only, check the appropriate box.
  • Part of speech: for example, ‘suffix’ or ‘interjection’. All parts of speech are selected by default. Choose an option from the drop-down menu to select a specific part of speech (e.g. combining form).
  • Restrict to entry letter or range: Use this option to restrict your search to entries with beginning with a particular letter or matching a specific wildcarded string (e.g., all entries beginning with g*, or all entries containing the string *calcu*). Type your term into the box. You can type in: a wildcarded letter (e.g., b*) to find matching entries beginning with that letter; a wildcard term (e.g., poly*) to find results matching this string; a single word (e.g., lie). This finds only those entries with that headword.


Searching for more than one term at once

If you would like to search for more than one term at once, key your second search term into the second input box. (You can continue to add input boxes to search for more than two terms by clicking “Add row”.)

Between the input boxes is a list box, headed And. This is where you select how you want to combine your terms. The options are:

  • And: finds results containing all your terms
  • Or: finds results containing either of the terms
  • Not: finds results containing the first term but not the second
  • Near: finds your terms near (i.e. within a specified number of words of) one another. The terms must be anywhere within the same section of an entry
  • Not Near: finds your terms where they do not occur near (i.e. within a specified number of words of) one another
  • By default a Near/Not Near search is set to One Word. The search will look for your terms within one word of one another. You can switch to finding them within Five, Ten, Fifteen, Twenty, Fifty, or a Hundred Words of one another by choosing the appropriate option from the list.

    If you wish, you can specify a different search area for each of your terms. Choose the appropriate search area (e.g. Quotation) from the box.


Wildcard searching

A quick search will find your term if it is a main entry, subentry, or variant spelling. The quick search will not recognize a misspelling. If you do not know how to spell a word, you can use a wildcard character in your search.

A wildcard is a symbol which stands for any character. Two wildcards are available. The question mark ? represents the occurrence of any one single character, and the asterisk * represents the occurrence of any number of characters (or no character at all).

A search with a wildcard retrieves all results which contain matching terms. For example:

  • c?t finds cat, cot, cut
  • c*t finds cat, caught, commencement, conflict, consent, cot, cut, etc.
  • Wildcards are useful if you do not know how to spell a word, if you are not sure in what form the term you want appears in the dictionary, or if you want to find several terms beginning with the same root.
  • The search term *sychok?n?s?s finds psychokinesis
  • The term colo*r matches color and colour
  • The term chorograph* finds chorographer, chorographic, chorographical, and chorographically


Performing an ordered search

A Near/Not Near search finds your terms in any order (i.e. Olympic before or after games). Click the Ordered box to search for them only in the order in which they appear in the search fields.

Note that the Near/Not Near part of a search is always performed first, regardless of the order of any other terms in the search.

When more than one operator (e.g., And and Or) is used, the search is run in the order in which they are listed. For example:

This search retrieves entries in which bird OR mammal occurs in the definition, AND in which Australia occurs. In other words, the search is bracketed as (bird OR mammal) AND Australia, which states that the operation Or is to be performed first.
You can override this default ordering by selecting the order you want from the panel to the right of the Advanced search form.

To run a search that would search for bird OR (mammal AND Australia), you would need to reorder the terms:


Searching for a phrase

You can search for a phrase (e.g. eat humble pie) using the Advanced search. Type the phrase into the Search box and start the search in the usual way.

An Advanced search looks for your phrase in the entire text of the dictionary, so this may be the most efficient search to choose.

If you are not sure in exactly what form your phrase may appear in the dictionary, consider an Advanced search for more than one term (e.g. humble Near pie).

Categories

Explore the dictionary through groupings of words in, for instance, a subject or from a particular origin. If you want to find all the Japanese borrowings in English, or find the first word related to espionage to enter the dictionary, this is the function for you.

 

Browse categories

To browse the dictionary’s categories:

  • Choose Categories from the Browse panel.
  • A list of categories is displayed, divided into Subject, Usage, Region and Origin. If a category can be expanded it is marked with an arrow.
  • Choose a category by clicking on it.
  • The matching entries are listed in the results list.
  • To view an entry from the list, click on its headword.
  • Note that:
  • The number next to a category indicates the number of matching results.
  • Results are given as senses.

Sources

Discover the most common sources to be cited as example sentences in the dictionary.

You can browse the top 1,000 sources in the OED by choosing Sources from the Browse panel.

A list of sources is displayed, numbered from 1 to 1,000, with information in columns about dates, total number of quotations, the number of times each source is cited as the first evidence for a word, and the number of times it is cited as the first evidence for a sense.

The sources are ordered by the total number of quotations by default. Click on any of the column headings to order the sources by the criteria in that column. One click will sort the column in ascending order. A second click will sort the column in descending order.
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Searching within the top 1000 sources

To look for a word or string in the list of sources, type it into the Search box at the top of the list, and click ‘GO’. Any matching sources are displayed in the list. To return to the full list, click X Clear Search.

Historical Thesaurus

The Historical Thesaurus is a taxonomic classification of the majority of senses and lemmas in OED Online. It can be thought of as a kind of semantic index to the contents of the OED.

Look up words or explore the subject options to find out historical synonyms. Search fear, for instance, and you’ll learn that in the 1400s, the word crainte was a synonym of today’s term fear.

The Historical Thesaurus can be used in OED Online to navigate around the dictionary by topic, find related terms, and explore the lexical history of a concept or meaning.

Each class (a list of senses and lemmas sharing a particular meaning) is arranged chronologically, giving a historical overview of the concept represented by that class.


Searching the Historical Thesaurus

Your starting point can be either the OED itself, where over two thirds of the senses have a link to the Historical Thesaurus, or via the Thesaurus itself.

From the full entry in the OED search, use the Thesaurus link to be taken to the category where the word occurs. There you will see the word itself, its synonyms, and the date of its first recorded occurrence in English.

If you start from the Thesaurus, you will be taken to the semantic categories, where you can select the meaning you want. You can return at any point to the full range of OED information, such as the word’s etymology, or the period when it was in use.

To start using the Historical Thesaurus, choose Historical Thesaurus from the Browse panel.

To search for a term in the Thesaurus, type the word or phrase you want to find into the Search box and click ‘GO’.

There are three options:

  • Words searches for your term as a dictionary entry (e.g. a search for ‘egg’ finds this term listed as an entry, or a sense of an entry, in 13 classes).
  • Headings searches subclass headings (e.g. a search for egg finds this term used in the headings of 4 classes).
  • Both searches both Words and Headings.
  • The Thesaurus search returns matching subclasses with the matched term in red.

    You can also browse by topic from the main Historical Thesaurus navigation page:

  • Select a topic from one of the three main categories (the external world, the mind, society) and browse its tree of subclasses. Click on the plus symbol next to any class to expand it.
  • When a subclass contains entries, these are displayed in the panel on the right. Click on an entry’s headword to open it at the relevant sense.

Sorting Thesaurus entries

The entries in a subclass are displayed in order of date. To switch to viewing them alphabetically, click A-Z.

A note on Old English

Old English words in the Historical Thesaurus are listed under the OED spelling rather than in the original form, and with the OED dates or periods of use. Following OED policy, words which died out before 1150 are not included; for these, the user must consult the print version of the Thesaurus or the versions on the Glasgow University website.

In addition to this guide, Christian Kay has written an Introduction to the Historical Thesaurus, while Marc Alexander and Kate Wild offer a case study on ‘Men’, ‘women’, and ‘children’ in the Thesaurus.

My OED

Personalize your OED online account to save and manage entries and searches.


Setting up and accessing your account

My OED allows you to create a personalized OED account whether you have an individual or institutional subscription.

To set up your My OED account:

  • click on Sign up and enter your full name and email address and create a password.

To sign into your My OED account:

  • click on Sign in and enter your email address and password.
  • If you have forgotten your password, click on Forgot? then enter your email address and click Submit. A password reminder will be emailed to you.


Saving entries

My OED allows you to save entries that you have viewed from one session to the next.
To save an OED entry click Save.

A link to the saved entry will appear under Saved entries in the My Entries drop-down.

To view that entry, click on the headwork link. To manage your saved entries, click Manage saved entries.


Saving searches

My OED allows you to save the results of Advanced Searches and of Quick Searches which produce more than one result.

To save a set of search results click Save then give the search a name and click Submit.

A link to the saved search will appear under Saved in the My Searches drop-down.

To view the results of that search, click on the link. To manage your saved searches, click Manage saved searches.


Managing My OED

You can manage your saved entries and searches using the My OED page.
Select Most recent to view recently saved items, select Saved entries to view entries only, or select Saved searches to view searches only. Select My folders to view and manage folders.

  • You can select or deselect saved items by clicking the checkboxes or by clicking All or None.
  • You can delete selected items by clicking Delete.
  • You can refine saved Advanced searches by clicking Edit.
  • You can move selected items to a folder by selecting the folder name from the drop-down menu and clicking Copy to folder.


My folders

You can use folders to arrange your saved entries or searches as groups.

  • Click Add Folder to add a new folder.
  • Click Delete to delete a folder.
  • Click the folder name to rename the folder.


My preferences

You can use My preferences to set the following preferences:

  • Number of search results per page
  • Quotations expanded or contracted
  • Forms expanded or contracted
  • Etymology expanded or contracted


My account

You can alter the following details on the My account page:

  • Full name
  • Password

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