I love discovering the meanings of new words that I come across when reading books or reading magazines (especially The Economist). I used to just Google for the meaning, but over time I have come to love the quality of good dictionaries for this. If you are new to dictionaries, the Wikipedia page that compares English dictionaries is a good place to start off on this journey.
Below are some of the dictionaries I have used. I like trying out different dictionaries to see how they differ in the meanings, etymologies, and usage examples.
This is the ultimate reference to the words of the English language. It focuses on the British dialect, but covers North American, Australian and Indian dialects too. This is a historical dictionary since it provides detailed references to the very first uses of each word.
The entry for each word has meanings, pronunciation, etymology, usage and historical references. Entries for common words can run into several pages! Only 2 editions have been produced of this gigantic work and the printed version of the 2nd edition is 20 volumes! It is also available online, or as a Windows/Mac application.
Though impractical for almost everyone, this is a heavenly resource for folks who want to find out everything about a word.
Not everyone needs a historical dictionary like OED and since every OED edition might take half a century, ODE is meant to the most authoritative if you do not need historical references and etymology. It is about 2100 pages in the 2010 edition.
This is my favorite dictionary since it is like a handy abridged version of OED.
The 12th edition had about 1700 pages and is very manageable as a reference at the desk. This used to be based off the OED, but in more recent editions has been derived from ODE. Each entry has meanings, pronunciation, both British and North American usages and etymology - pretty much everything you get from OED, but in a concise manner.
The 12th edition in 2011 celebrated one century of this dictionary’s existence. It has an introduction at the beginning by Elizabeth Knowles that goes into the history behind COED and OED, which is simply fascinating.
This is probably the most popular reference for the American dialect of English. I used to use this while I lived in India. It is quite manageable at 700 pages for the 2005 edition.
For US college students. Quite big at 1600 pages in the 2020 edition.
This is meant for US school students, grades 6 to 8. Quite big at 1000 pages.
This is meant for US school students, grades 3 to 6. Quite big for children of this age group at 800 pages.
This is meant for US school students, grades kindergarten to grade 3. Still quite big at 400 pages for the 2005 edition.
It has about 1000 words, with colorful pictures, stories and even poems that go with each one. Reading out each entry to your kids can be quite entertaining.
1100 pages in the 2012 edition.