Favorite free online dictionariesAll of the dictionaries listed below are good at suggesting correct spellings, work well on a phone screen, and provide audible pronunciations.
Cambridge Advanced Learners Dictionary for American English provides simple definitions and synonyms. It is not as thorough at word nuance as a more comprehensive dictionary, but its definitions use very simple words. It has become a bit ad-heavy, but it's a good, simple dictionary.
Oxford Dictionary for American English provides nuanced meanings for each word with sample sentences. These are the definitions and synonyms you get if you use Google's define:
Vocabulary.com provides audio pronunciation and conversational definitions. It is not as convenient for words with multiple meanings, but many will like its "friendly" tone.
Onelook provides a quick definition with links to many other dictionaries including specialized dictionaries. Each word links to a powerful thesaurus. Specialized dictionaries include old dictionaries that can be useful for better understanding words as they were used in historic books.
The dictionary built into Google's search feature provides definitions and synonyms from the Oxford Dictionary, but without as many samples. It has an interesting feature unique to Google. It shows how often a word was used in English over time. Typically, you can just type a word into Google's search box to get a definition, but to assure the dictionary will return a definition type "define:" prior to the word you want to lookup. (On rare occasions, Google will ignore the "define:" instruction. If you encounter that problem, look up a different word and then enter the problem word into the Search for a word box that comes with every definition.)
Merriam-Webster may be the best free dictionary at providing meanings for rare word derivations made with prefixes and suffixes. It's certainly isn't as complete as one might hope, but for example, the definition of unphonetic will offer more than "not phonetic."
Reverse dictionary at OneLookA thesaurus is often useful when trying to recall a word. But when you can't even think of a good synonym, this reverse dictionary will search for the word based upon words used in the definition or even by searching for words that are often associated with the word you're trying to recall.
Choose the Right WordChoose the Right Word is an outstanding thesaurus that is only available in book form. It is limited in scope and not as up-to-date as would be ideal, but it does an outstanding job of discussing the nuance of synonyms. For example, is immaterial or irrelevant a better word choice? This book will discuss their distinctions along with words like extraneous and superfluous.
You can't easily preview the book because Amazon's "Look Inside" feature is not operable on it. However, you can search the first edition of the book at Google Books to see snippets. The snippets are too limiting, but if you want to preview the book online, it's better than nothing.
No Fear Shakespeare and moreWhen reading Shakespeare, No Fear Shakespeare provides the original text in the left column, and a modern translation in the right column. Often, it doesn't translate a given word or line very well, but it does an excellent job of giving the gist of each passage.
No Fear Literature does the same for a handful of classic novels including Beowulf, The Canterbury Tales, Heart of Darkness, The Scarlet Letter, A Tale of Two Cities, and The adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Shakescleare Translations at LitCharts provides even better transaltions for close reading for all the plays by Shakespeare. It uses color coding to offer a more granular translation. Additional information is available; though much of it requires payment.
If a given word or expression is still not clear, you might like to check Shakespeare Navigators. Rather than offering a complete translation, it selects challenging words or expressions and translates them directly. These translations are provided by a Professor of British Literature.
When reading other classic literature, you might enjoy looking at Webster's 1828 Dictionary to see how a word was used long ago.
Shakespeare's Words can be used a little before it will require payment. It does the same kind of translation done by No Fear Shakespeare, but with a slightly more detailed approach. For example, No Fear Shakespeare might make it easier to follow the gist of the story by replacing an archaic figure of speech with a modern equivalent. Shakespeare's Words would more likely preserve the original figure of speech and explain how an archaic word was used in it. When last checked (1/30/20), this site is better used with a large screen. If you're using a phone, turn it to have a wider screen. Use the site sparingly unless you want to pay to support it.
Choosing books to assignYou might like to look at our Popular Book Lists. It contains such lists as:
- Popular Quizzes at This Site
- Books Most Frequently Read Independently (by grade)
- Books Most Popular at verbalworkout.com
- Books Most Cited by AP Literature Open Response Questions
Other good vocabulary quiz sitesThis is the best site for free, consistent vocabulary quizzes to augment high school and middle school reading. To this author's knowledge, it is the only site that offers vocabulary quizzes formatted in the new way the SAT and ACT test vocabulary; i.e., by using the word in context and then asking the student to choose the correct meaning of the word. This format also has the advantage of mimicking what goes on when a student is reading.
But there are some other excellent vocabulary quiz sites that offer their own advantages--especially with regard to creating your own quizzes. The sites listed below will require you to sign in. Vocabulary.com will encourage you to pay for premium versions, but both sites have a free version. Additionally, your school or district may want to look into Accelerated Reader; though it has no free version.