Five Dictionary tricks I can't live without

Today's Best Tech Deals

Picked by Macworld's Editors

Top Deals On Great Products

Picked by Techconnect's Editors

You’ve probably ditched your paper dictionary, but do you know how to use OS X’s built-in one? This week’s video shows you how.


Whether you need to know what a word means or just how to spell it, the days of leafing through hefty paper dictionaries are gone. But few Mac users really know how to make the most of OS X’s built-in Dictionary app. Today I’ll show you five tricks for doing just that.

1. Use pop-up definitions

A useful, and chronically underused, OS X feature is systemwide pop-up definitions. In most Mac applications—including Safari, Mail, Pages, TextEdit, Twitter, you name it—just position your cursor over the word you want to define and press Command-Control-D. A pop-up window appears containing the definition, synonyms, and any relevant Wikipedia entry.

Click the header for Dictionary, Thesaurus, Apple, or Wikipedia to open Dictionary to the relevant page.

2. Use contextual menus

Say you’ve forgotten the Command-Control-D shortcut already. Are you out of luck? Of course not. In most applications, you can instead select a word and Control-click (or right-click). A contextual menu appears. Select Look Up in Dictionary (or Look Up) and the definition appears.

3. Use Spotlight

Another quick way to look up a word is by using the Spotlight search menu. Press Command-spacebar to activate it, and then type in the word you need defined. One of your results will be ‘Look Up’ next to the Dictionary icon. You don’t have to select this and press Return. Instead, simply hover your cursor over the entry and a pop-up menu will appear with the full definition. If you don’t want to reach for your mouse, press Command-L to jump immediately to the definition.

For more options—like the ability to look for synonyms—select the Dictionary entry (or press Command-D), and the Dictionary application will open to your word.

4. Make Dictionary talk

Perhaps your elementary school teachers taught you how to decipher the pronunciation symbols provided by the dictionary, but…perhaps not. Did you know that you can get Dictionary to pronounce words for you?

Go to System Preferences, click Dictation & Speech, click the Text to Speech tab, and choose a voice.

To make Dictionary talk, select a word and Control-click (or right-click) it. From the contextual menu, choose Speech > Start Speaking.

If the word isn’t split into syllables (say, down below in its Thesaurus entry), you don’t even have to select it. Just point to it with your cursor and Control-click.

5. Change your sources

Dictionary comes with a bunch of built-in reference sources. Select Dictionary > Preferences to see the list. Here you can determine which sources will show up when you search and what order they’ll show up in. So, for instance, you could get rid of Wikipedia, add a Spanish language dictionary, or switch out the American English dictionary for a British English one.

Note that you have to be connected to the Internet to access Wikipedia. And what’s the Apple dictionary, you may ask? It includes a glossary of Apple terms—helpful for those times when you’re not interested in the type of apple you can eat.

Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.
Shop Tech Products at Amazon