The Giants of Lexicon: A Journey Through the 7 Largest Dictionaries of English

In the realm of English, dictionaries are monumental testaments to the richness, diversity, and evolving nature of one of the most widely spoken languages. They not only define words but also encapsulate its historical and cultural tapestry. 

In this exploration, we delve into the seven largest dictionaries of English, each a colossus in its own right, revealing their origins, the breadth of their content, and their unique contributions to the world of linguistics.

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1. Oxford English Dictionary (OED)

Year of Creation: Traces back to 1857, with the first volume published in 1884.

Number of Words: Over 600,000 words.

Significance: Tracks how words evolve and are used over time, with a rich collection of obsolete and archaic terms—a treasure trove for linguistic research.

The Oxford English Dictionary is a historical lexicon, offering a definitive record of the English language beyond a conventional dictionary. Meticulously documenting word origins, usage, and evolution, it provides detailed histories, examples, and pronunciation guides. An indispensable resource for understanding the chronology and context of English words, it reflects the linguistic tapestry woven over centuries. Continually updated, the OED captures the evolving nature of English.

Did You Know?

The first OED’s edition took nearly 70 years to complete. Contributors included soldiers in World War I, sending entries from the trenches. Reading the OED cover to cover would take an average reader 120 continuous days. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, was among its contributors, submitting quotations for inclusion. The OED is a project in perpetual motion, especially with its digital version. The dictionary’s first editor, James Murray, dedicated his life to the project, working in a scriptorium surrounded by millions of quotation slips. Quintessentially British, the OED’s vocabulary represents over 90 world languages, illustrating the global nature of English. It includes words with a staggering range of meanings, like “set” and “run,” showcasing the language’s complexity. The OED’s early adoption of digitization significantly expanded its accessibility worldwide.

2. Webster’s Third New International Dictionary

Year of Creation: First published in 1961, it succeeded the 1934 edition.

Number of Words: Approximately 475,000 entries.

Significance: Embraces American English’s evolving nature and its influence on the language’s global usage.

Webster’s Third New International Dictionary is a pivotal for its descriptive approach to American English, capturing a broad spectrum of colloquial, regional, and social dialects. Departing from prescriptive norms, it records language as it is used, mirroring the evolution of English dictionaries. Focusing on actual usage, it’s an invaluable resource for understanding contemporary American English and its cultural influences. With comprehensive coverage, it serves as both native speakers and language learners interested in taking an English level test.

Did You Know?

Webster’s Third New International Dictionary sparked considerable controversy with its inclusion of colloquial language, challenging traditional norms of lexicography. Reflecting its philosophy of documenting the English language as genuinely spoken, it embraces a wide range of vernacular and regional expressions. Pioneering in its systematic addition of neologisms, it accommodates technological, scientific, and societal advancements.

3. Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (SOED)

Year of Creation: Originally published in 1933.

Number of Words: Over 600,000 words.

Significance: A condensed version of the OED.

The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary is a remarkable abridgment of the renowned Oxford English Dictionary, retaining the historical and etymological depth of ts parent volume. It provides a concise overview of the English language, catering to scholars, writers, and everyday users. Known for precise definitions, the SOED captures the dynamic nature of English, balancing historical thoroughness with contemporary relevance. Ongoing updates showcase its commitment to adapting to the changing linguistic landscape.

Did You Know?

SOED is designed for accessible use, focusing on the current meanings and usage of words while still retaining rich historical context. Notably revised in 2007, it added new entries and removed archaic terms, reflecting the ongoing development of English.

4. Random House Dictionary of the English Language

Year of Creation: First published in 1966.

Number of Words: Over 315,000 entries.

Significance: Noted for its inclusive approach to American English, encompassing various regional and social dialects, reflecting the language’s democratic nature.

The Random House Dictionary of the English Language offers a modern perspective on American English, covering formal to colloquial terms. It reflects language diversity by including regional and social dialects, known for clear definitions and a user-friendly format. This extensive resource documents contemporary usage, playing a crucial role in shaping understanding in the modern era.

Did You Know?

This dictionary broke new ground by including slang and colloquial expressions, reflecting spoken language more accurately. Notably, it uses full sentences for definitions, aiding users in understanding words within their natural linguistic context. An early adopter of computer technology, the Random House Dictionary efficiently sorted and organized vast linguistic data, setting a new standard in dictionary development.

5. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language

Year of Creation: First edition published in 1969.

Number of Words: Approximately 350,000 words.

Significance: Esteemed for rich illustrations and in-depth word histories. Its usage panel, comprising prominent writers and scholars, provides insights into traditional and contemporary English usage.

The American Heritage Dictionary bridges linguistic scholarship and practical usage, celebrated for clear definitions, etymology, and illustrative examples. Valuable for students, writers, and language enthusiasts, it embraces English as a living, evolving entity, particularly focusing on American English, making it a key reference tool in various contexts.

Did You Know?

This dictionary responds to the permissiveness in contemporary dictionaries, aiming for a balance between descriptive and prescriptive language. Known for detailed etymology and rich visual elements, including illustrations and photographs, it was an early adopter of technology-related terms, reflecting the influence of the digital age on the English language.

6. Collins English Dictionary

Year of Creation: First published in 1979.

Number of Words: Over 722,000 words, phrases, and definitions.

Significance: Stands out for its efforts to incorporate the latest words and phrases, reflecting the living nature of the language.

Collins English Dictionary is celebrated for is thorough and current English coverage. With a user-friendly layout and clear definitions, it’s favored by professionals and language learners seeking to learn English grammar. Proactively incorporating new words, it stays updated in both print and digital formats, reflecting the evolving nature of English. With a global perspective, it includes international variations, serving as a valuable resource for understanding worldwide English usage.

Did You Know?

Collins English Dictionary leads in adapting to the digital age and social media’s impact on language. It’s an early adopter of crowdsourcing word suggestions through social platforms, staying attuned to internet and pop culture language shifts.

7. Chambers Dictionary

Year of Creation: First published in 1872.

Number of Words: Around 275,000 entries.

Significance: Emphasizing unusual, archaic words and offering whimsically humorous definitions, it’s a favorite among crossword solvers and lovers of quirky language.

Chambers Dictionary is a distinguished reference book in the world of English dictionaries, offering comprehensive coverage with a touch of personality. It focuses on the richness and diversity of the English language, including historical and rare aspects. Regularly updated to reflect changes in usage, Chambers remains a valuable resource for those seeking a deeper understanding of English, emphasizing eccentric and lesser-known corners of the language.

Did You Know?

Famous for witty definitions, it offers readers both entertainment and insight. A beloved resource among word enthusiasts and crossword puzzle aficionados. Embraces obscure and archaic language, providing a window into the rich history and evolution of English.


In conclusion, the seven largest dictionaries of English are much more than collections of words. They are the keepers of the language’s legacy, chroniclers of its ongoing journey, and invaluable companions for those seeking to master English. Their pages tell the story of English, not just as a means of communication but as a living entity that reflects the human experience in all its diversity and complexity.

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