Children's, Intermediate and Advanced Online English Dictionary & Thesaurus

Category: How to Use the Dictionary-Thesaurus


About Wordsmyth Word Combinations

The Word Combinations feature displays words that are frequently used in combination with the word you looked up. For some of the combinations to make sense, however, you may need to supply additional words such as “and,” “of,” “in,” “with,” or “from.” Supplying a plural marker or possessive marker (‘s) may make some things clearer as well.
The sets of words that you see here can help you find a word that is correct or appropriate to complete a particular meaning that you intend. In addition, the words can help you refine your understanding of the word you looked up by showing you the pattern of use of this word. The word combinations can also give you a sense of how this word may be differentiated from words with similar meanings.

Combinations of words such as you see here are referred to by linguists as “collocations.” We have grouped the collocations according to the part of speech of the headword (the word you looked up) and also according to the part of speech of the combining words (the “collocates”).

For certain words and certain parts of speech combinations, there can be a very large number of frequent collocations. In the initial display, we show the twenty most common collocates according to our data. Clicking “See all” will bring up additional words in excess of the twenty.

The Word Combinations feature shows you the most frequently-occurring combinations of words as they appear in a very large body of written text. Some combinations that occur in ordinary conversation that include very high frequency words such as “do,” “have,” or “make” may be omitted as a result. These types of combinations are handled in example sentences paired with a particular headword definition.

The term “collocation” actually refers to various types of word combinations ranging from fixed phrases and idioms, in which the words always go together in a certain way and cannot be interchanged with other words, to word combinations that occur frequently but are made up of words that can be easily interchanged with other words. The collocations that we display in the Word Combinations feature tend to be closer to the latter type. Most of them are “medium strength” collocations, such as “cool breeze,” “refreshing breeze,” “soft breeze,” and “gentle breeze.” Some of the collocations that we show, however, are “strong collocations” made up of words that seem to cling to each other, such as “commit (a) crime” and “tell (the) truth.” Some of the items that the data-gathering tool brings up in addition, such as “social + security” and “right + angle,” are actually part of multi-word units that have a unique meaning in themselves and really should be considered single words rather than collocations.


Wordsmyth’s new Word Parts database

The importance of learning Word Parts
Studying word parts (roots and affixes) equips us to do the following:

  • Identify the meaningful elements that make up words.
  • Learn the characteristics of roots and of affixes: origin, meaning, grammatical function.
  • Guess (or recall) the meaning of unfamiliar words from the clues given by word parts.
  • Recognize the relationship among words that share a common root or affix.
  • Recognize and use patterns of word change (e.g., cept, -ceive).
  • Improve spelling by gaining awareness of the internal logic of words.
  • Increase vocabulary, cultivate morphological awareness–and enjoy the English language.
  • Fulfill Common Core (CCSS) ELA Literacy standards.

Three views of the Word Parts data

1) Dictionary entries:
More than 8000 Wordsmyth dictionary entries now display information about the word parts that make up the headword. In the new Word Parts section of the entry, the headword is broken down into its roots and affixes.

introvert wpEach significant word part is identified and its origin, type, and meaning provided. The user can also here view a list of other example words containing the word part, and jump to those words’ dictionary entries to explore further. “More about this word part” notes explain in more detail how particular affixes combine with bases to form words.

abstain wp

2) A-Z Word Parts Page:
In addition to the dictionary entry Word Parts feature, where the composition of a word can be studied in the context of looking up a word, the user can search, sort, and browse more than 600 roots and affixes at the A-Z Word Parts page (under Search Tools menu).

Picture 3

3) Search Filters:
Finally, for a view of all the words that have word parts information, the Search Filter page (under the Search Tools menu) will display them in an alphabetical browsable format. Simply select “word parts information.”

Word Parts Data in Word Explorer Children’s Dictionary

Word Explorer Children’s Dictionary users have these same three modes of access to roots and affixes information, but with the example words limited to the headwords in the Children’s Dictionary. To maximize flexibility, there are links to the complete Word Parts Database from any point in the Children’s Word Parts data. In the case of roots and affixes that have no example words in the Children’s Dictionary, the word part and information about it can still be found in the Children’s Dictionary A-Z Word Parts look up. 

For a general introduction to the terms and concepts used in our Word Parts database, see this downloadable pdf


Comprehensive Learner’s Dictionary: Integrated Leveled Dictionaries

One of the most distinctive and useful features Wordsmyth offers is the ability to search three dictionaries, at three different reading levels, from one search box. The Comprehensive Learner’s Dictionary combines our Advanced Dictionary-Thesaurus with two additional Wordsmyth dictionaries, the Intermediate Dictionary-Thesaurus for upper elementary school students, and the Beginner’s Dictionary-Thesaurus for English language learners. Using the buttons beneath the search box, users can select their default dictionary level (see screenshot below) and get results from that dictionary with every search.choose level copy

Because the three dictionaries are integrated in the Wordsmyth database, and not merely aggregated, the possibility that selecting a lower-level dictionary will return no results is eliminated. If the Beginner’s Dictionary has been selected and the user looks up a word not included in that dictionary, the system will automatically display the entry for that word from the dictionary at the next higher level.

Integration of the dictionaries also means that at the top of every entry the user can see which other dictionaries contain entries for the word, allowing the user to move to a simpler or more advanced level with one click, as shown in this screenshot:

 other levels copy

Here’s an example. May is learning English as a second language, and is puzzled when a new acquaintance tells her, “I always get a big hand when I sing.” Later, May looks up “hand” in the Wordsmyth Beginner’s Dictionary to see if there is a definition of hand that helps explain what she heard. As it turns out, although there are numerous senses of “hand” in the Beginner’s Dictionary, none of them make sense of the singer’s expanding hand. May can then click on “See this entry in the Intermediate/Advanced Dictionary” to find the sense of “hand” meaning “a round of applause.”  And, if she needs to know the meaning of “applause,” the default dictionary level is still at Beginner’s. She can click on the word “applause” right there in the advanced definition and the returned entry will be from the Beginner’s Dictionary.  The flexible search interface of of Wordsmyth dictionaries enables users to select the reading level at which they feel most comfortable while retaining seamless access to entries at other levels.


How to s*rch the diction?ry using wild card symbols

Did you know that Wordsmyth’s dictionary search box permits the use of wild card symbols?  “?” and “*”: These unassuming symbols are surprisingly powerful, as they can represent any letter or string of letters in a word. Understanding how to use them will increase your ability to find words you can’t spell or don’t fully recall. Wild card symbols also allow you to find groups of words that contain a particular letter pattern.

The question mark 
? stands for any single character (letter or number). For example, if you search for “cat??” you will find all five-letter headwords that begin with “cat”: “catch,” “cater,” “catty [1]” and “catty [2]”. (“Catty [2]” is a unit of weight used in Southeast Asia.) Search for “???cat,” and you will find all six-letter words that end in “cat,” including “bobcat,” “fat cat” and “muscat” (a type of grape used to make wine). The query “c?a?t?” will return “coast” and “craft.” If you’re thinking this search mode sounds handy for solving crossword puzzles, you would be right. In fact, Wordsmyth has a Crossword Solver that tailors wild card searching for this specific purpose.

The asterisk
* stands for zero or more letters. For example, if you search for “cat*,” you will find all headwords that start with “cat,” including “catty,” “cater,” “catalog,” and “catabolism.”   If you search for “*cat*,” you will find headwords that contain “cat” in the middle, such as “application” and “beef cattle.” Because an asterisk can also represent zero letters, all these searches would also turn up “cat” itself.

wild card search


Pictured left is a query for words that start with and contain the letter “q.” Amusing, yes, but wild cards searches do also have applications in an educational context. Using wild card symbols, you can find all the words that contain a particular Latin or Greek root. Try *cept* or *graph,* for example.

With a little cleverness, you can also find words that you are not sure how to spell, or that you only remember part of.  For example, you might remember part of a word’s spelling, so you might enter “m*t*c*ond*ria” in the search box. You would find “mitochondria” because the first three asterisks match the letters”i,” “o,” “h,” respectively, while the fourth asterisk matches zero characters. There is no letter between the “d” and the “r” in “mitochondria.”

When your goal is to find words rather than word meanings, the wild card search is a useful tool. To really become adept at finding the words you need in Wordsmyth dictionary, you will also want to familiarize yourself with Wordsmyth’s Reverse Search, Browse, and Multi-Word Results, which will be covered in future posts. We’ll leave you with a challenge using wild card symbols: find the word in the Wordsmyth dictionary that has the most number of letters in alphabetical order. And, finally, let us know to what fiendishly clever ends you have put the dictionary wild card search.















New Feature: Your Look-up History

Nothing brings home to me just how much mileage I habitually rack up on the information highway like a glance at my browser history. Whether it’s showing me locations I visited “last week,” “yesterday,” or even earlier “today,” the amount and the variety of the terrain covered is impressive. Many of the URLs that pop up in my browser history I’d forgotten ever having visited. Sometimes forgetting is good: here at my work computer, for example, history shows that, a few days ago, what started as a purposeful search on Project Gutenberg for literary uses of an unusual word (“tardigrade”) was diverted by one author’s reference to “hoof-shaped shoes” worn by the precursors of policemen in fifteenth-century Florence. Curiosity must have gotten the better of me, for apparently I made seven stops related to hoof-shaped shoes before getting back on track. Most of the time, however, I wish I hadn’t forgotten where I’d been and had kept more bookmarks and notes. What fruitful trails have I abandoned–or spent precious time rediscovering?

A new feature in Wordsmyth, the dictionary look-up history, is designed to help you remember the paths you’ve taken through the dictionary-thesaurus and the words you’ve investigated for as long as you wish to. Your look-up history keeps track of which words you’ve looked up and when, and makes that information easily accessible to you whenever you visit Wordsmyth.  Here’s how it works. When you view a dictionary entry, as shown below, the last few words you’ve looked up will be visible in a box in the top right of the entry (indicated by the blue arrow). When there are more than five words in your look-up history, this box will display a link, “See more,” (indicated by the lower red arrow), which will take you to the full look-up history page. This page is also accessible from the tab menu My Wordsmyth: Look-up History (See the upper red arrow).

Look-up history box in entry

Look-up history box in entry

On the Look-up history page each word you have looked up is listed in chronological order from newest to oldest. For each word, there is a complete record. n Moving from left to right across the columns, as shown in the image below, you will see 1) the word looked up, 2) the number of times the word was looked up on a given day (#), 3) the date on which it was looked up, 4) the first definition of the word and, in brackets, the number of definitions the word has, if more than one. Finally, 5) the Site column tells you which Wordsmyth site you used (Kids or Main), and, 6) if the Main site was used, the level of the dictionary you used (Beginners, Intermediate, or Advanced).

Look-up history page

Look-up history page

View alphabetically or by date

To faciliate finding particular words you may have looked up, the look-up history will display alphabetically if you click on the small blue triangle tot he right of the “Word” column heading, and chronologically if you click on the triangle to the right of the “Date” column heading.

When your look-history is extensive, perhaps stretching over a number of pages, you can narrow down the words you see by using the drop down menu “Show words looked up” (in the image above), choosing to see “all history,” “last 30 days”, last 7 days or 1 day, and clicking “find.” You may also enter a word or a date in the “Find a word or date” search box (b in the image above) and click on “Find” to view the page where a particular word or date appears.

The Look-up History is very alert! It will record not only words you look up using the general search box, but also synonyms, similars, and antonyms you click on, was well as Word Explorer words. However, you can clear your history by clicking on the blue [Clear] link (c). And you can hide the lookup history box in the Display options menu that appears on the entry page.