A typical dictionary entry includes these parts:

  • the word or phrase broken into syllables.

  • the word or phrase with the pronunciation indicated through the use of diacritical marks – marks that indicate the vowel sounds such as a long vowel or a vowel affected by other sounds; accent marks, a mark called the schwa that tells you that the vowel is in an unaccented syllable of the word.

  • the part or parts of speech the word functions as – for example as a noun (n.), verb (v.), adjective (adj.), or adverb (adv.).

  • related forms of the word, such as the plural form of nouns and the past tense of verbs.

  • the definition or definitions of the word or phrase.  Generally dictionaries group the definitions according to a word's use as a noun, verb, adjective, and/or adverb.

  • the origin, or etymology, of the word or words, such as from the Latin, Old French, Middle English, Hebrew, the name of a person.  Some dictionaries use the symbol < to mean "came from."  For example, the origin of the word flank is given as "<Old French flanc<Germanic."  This tells us that flank came from the Old French word fanc.  The French word in turn came from the German language.  Some dictionaries use abbreviations to tell you where the item came from: OE for Old English, L for Latin, and so forth.

Interpret a dictionary entry using the following steps:

  • Pronounce the word in syllables using the diacritical marks as a guide.

  • Note the part or parts of speech of the word and any related words.

  • Read the definitions.

  • Check the etymological reference to see if you can find remnants of the meaning of the originating word in the meaning of the entry.

  • Use the word in a sentence that has a clue in it as to the meaning of the word.  (Hennings, p. 5)