Dictionaries and Thesauruses to Buy

Over the past couple of years I’ve put together some gift recommendations for writers—and the writers in our lives (if you happen to be lucky enough to have a relationship with one!).

I realized the other day, that what follows I’ve yet to post on this blog: so here are my recommendations for dictionaries and thesauruses—being two of the essential components in any writer’s toolbox. I’ll cover both the Australian and US writer.


For the US, I suggest the “American Heritage 5th Edition”. For Australia, the “Shorter Oxford 6th Edition” (two-volumes) though the “Macquarie 6th Edition” (one volume) isn’t bad at all.

I love my “Webster’s Third New International” (US) and you can still buy it, but it’s so old now that it doesn’t even define “blog”.

That’s not a bad litmus to check if you have a modern dictionary that can take it, in fact.

Now these dictionaries are big tomes. There’s a reason for that. A Scrabble-style or high school-level dictionary won’t cut the variety good writing demands. So whatever you do, get hold of a college or university-level dictionary like those above. It’ll pay for itself through the years.

The thing about dictionaries is that there will be times when you’ll find it hard to get two to agree. I remember the other week trying to reconcile a phrasing conundrum. It took all the dictionaries mentioned above—and in the spirit of great international fellowship, Macquarie and the American Heritage came to the rescue on a “what ticked the most boxes” basis.

So choose one that fits with you; but two make for a better debate.


A wide thesaurus is invaluable for those times when something’s on the tip of your tongue and no amount of pounding your head will bring it out.

So look for a thesaurus with an alphabetical format like “The Synonym Finder” or the “Oxford American Thesaurus”. They’re so much easier to use than a traditional Roget’s and suit both the US and Australian writer just fine.

What about Microsoft’s built-in dictionary and thesaurus?

It’s an interesting point. Often times they do a fine job. I noticed, however, that with Word 2016 there’s now a move away from the dictionary lookup we’ve long been used to in favor of all things Bing. That really makes owning a bona fide vocabulary resource all the more essential.

That said, when they work, good ol’ Microsoft can save the day. But there’s immense enjoyment in looking things up too.

It’s worth mentioning that nearly every dictionary mentioned above comes as an online subscription-based offering too. I’ve tried some out but found the printed tomes more thorough.

It’s really each to his or her own in that respect. But I don’t think we’re seeing the end of the paper word guide just yet in other words. And that’s called an unintentional pun.

Next time we’ll look at style guides.

© 2016 Adam Parker.