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Many Stack Exchange sites require that users do some research before asking a question. Does English Language & Usage have such a policy? If yes, what resources should users consult before asking a question?


Note: As suggested by Catija, this is a pared down list of resources that will be used in our close reason.

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    Note: Please don't post new answers here; use this question instead. Also, I'm likely to delete comments left here in the future.
    – Laurel Mod
    Nov 20, 2023 at 20:30

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Asking questions

Many questions can be easily answered by searching for a word, phrase, or idiom in a free online dictionary. Meaning, pronunciation, and even some grammar questions (such as which preposition is the most appropriate after a specific verb) are all covered in most dictionaries.

To prevent our site from duplicating this information, we expect that users check at least one dictionary before posting a question. To make this easier, we've created a "List of Resources" below of a few popular dictionaries and the differences between them. Feel free to use resources that aren't on this list or even cross-reference several of them (but make sure that your sources are reputable!); the more solid your research is, the more likely your question is to be well received. Once you've consulted your dictionary (or several), if your question wasn't satisfactorily answered there, include a link to the dictionary entry and explain why it didn't answer your question.

If you are a non-native speaker, consider asking on ELL instead. While ELL has a similar requirement for research, everything about it is tailored toward answering non-native questions.

Additionally, be sure to search for duplicates before asking. If you did find a question that looked promising but only had bad answers, you can still ask your question if you link to the old one and explain why those answers don't work for you. Note: Finding duplicates on this site can be tricky, so it's OK if a question ends up being closed as a duplicate.

List of resources

These dictionaries were selected from our larger list because they are free, reputable, and easy to use.

General Dictionaries

  • Cambridge Dictionaries Online (CDO) — The main dictionary ("English") is British-focused, but includes definitions and sound clips for American English as well. Some of the entries have pictures. Additionally, there are two more dictionaries, one for each dialect: "Essential American English" and "Essential British English". Unlike other American dictionaries, the pronunciation system is IPA.
  • Collins — Several dictionaries on the same page, with the first one being primarily British. American English is covered somewhere further down on the page, though (unlike other American dictionaries) the pronunciation system is IPA. Some of the entries have pictures, and in addition to sound clips, there are videos of people pronouncing each word. Also covers the etymology (somewhere).
  • Merriam-Webster (MW) — An American dictionary, with some British (or World English) definitions. Has sound clips for how to pronounce words. No IPA. Includes etymology.
  • Dictionary.com — The primary dictionary is American English, with sound clips. Features both phonetic respelling and IPA transcriptions. Some entries include content above and beyond that from other sources.

Learner's dictionaries

A learner's dictionary is a type of dictionary with additional features that are geared towards non-native speakers. For example, many nouns will be marked as "countable" or "uncountable" whereas a general dictionary would not have either label unless it was a particularly rare word.

Idioms, expressions and slang

  • Most dictionaries define idioms, either as their own entry or under a headword. For example, I searched for horse to water in the search box, and Collins returned their entry for you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink

  • TFD Idioms and Phrases — I found that searching for idioms and phrases in a dedicated dictionary like this one was easier than searching in a general-purpose dictionary.

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    Note: I wanted to annotate the learner's dictionaries like I did for the other sections (and also pare down that list more), but I ran out of energy...
    – Laurel Mod
    Nov 20, 2023 at 19:10
  • There can be all sorts of specialized publications and books that are not possible to list: there are too many of them.
    – Lambie
    Nov 20, 2023 at 20:18
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    @Lambie This is a short list of resources intended to not overwhelm new users. Feel free to add to the other one with specialized stuff.
    – Laurel Mod
    Nov 20, 2023 at 20:40
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    1) Why include learner's dictionaries? 2) What about syntax questions? 3) What about etymology questions? (pronunciation and spelling are covered by dicitonaries)
    – Mitch
    Nov 21, 2023 at 15:44
  • @Mitch 1) They often have info not in regular dictionaries. 2) Is there a "syntax dictionary" which allows anyone to quickly and easily find a reliable answer? 3) "Etymology is an ongoing field of research" — I'm not satisfied with existing sources except maybe for the most basic of questions (eg "what language does word X come from?").
    – Laurel Mod
    Nov 21, 2023 at 15:51
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    @Laurel 1) what info do learner's dictionaries have that the regular ones listed don't? 2) I don't know of a syntax reference but a) there might be one easily available online (and could have a link) and b) if there isn't one the lack should be noted explicitly. 3) etymonline is the go-to for basic etymology and should be the LMGTFY listed in this answer. (plain old googling will work too but etymonline is more authoritative).
    – Mitch
    Nov 21, 2023 at 15:59
  • @Mitch 1) countable/uncountable markings. 2) We discussed this somewhere on the main thread (linked in Q) and nobody could give a link. There are any number of English topics that don't have "dictionaries" and it might get unwieldy to list them here. 3) Maybe, maybe, but only then for basic questions. (I fear that Etymonline will go offline one day.)
    – Laurel Mod
    Nov 21, 2023 at 16:11
  • I think that it is misguided to try to come up with some definitive list of general-reference sources, that could then be applied mechanically in deciding to close a question. First, what sources one can be expected to consult before asking a question here may depend on the nature of the question: if a question is about specialised usage in a particular field, one should consult readily available sources specific to that field, in addition to general-purpose dictionaries. Second, what can be found in a dictionary often requires a great deal of interpretation to constitute an answer.
    – jsw29
    Nov 21, 2023 at 16:56
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    @Laurel 1) ✔️ 2) Syntax is half the qns here - it'd be good to make it explicit in this answer 3) re basic: it gives PIE roots, which is pretty helpful for the kinds of questions that etymonline is a good resource for. google definitions usually end up at 'French' or at best 'Latin'. re 'offline' - google services come and go. ie I trust etymonline to stay around longer than any random google service. I'm just trying to help get this question to be the most useful (both short and most likely to be used).
    – Mitch
    Nov 21, 2023 at 17:01
  • @jsw29 This is part of what people voted for on the main discussion and it's intended to reduce the # of closed questions. IMO: a) Asking a question shouldn't require hours and even a new user should be able to read the rules & create a question they can be reasonably certain won't be closed. b) As we are not all experts in other topics, how would we know what sources about that topic are free & reputable and where the information we need is? c) "often requires a great deal of interpretation" is why I hope to see questions that quote dictionaries and ask questions about what's there.
    – Laurel Mod
    Nov 22, 2023 at 13:43
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    Regarding 'a new user should be able to read the rules & create a question they can be reasonably certain won't be closed': somebody who can't be bothered to consult a readily available general-purpose dictionary before asking a question is even less likely to be bothered to consult the rules that you are working so hard to formulate.
    – jsw29
    Nov 22, 2023 at 16:01
  • @jsw29 True, which is why this question will be linked in the new close notice. But the fact is, in the recent past, even people who were trying to put in the effort (who were often experienced with SE, if not our very site) often found their questions closed, which is something I'm trying to prevent.
    – Laurel Mod
    Nov 22, 2023 at 16:18

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