The iOS Built-In Dictionary

The iPhone and iPad have a built-in dictionary that doesn't appear as an individual app, but as a resource you can access Safari, text editing and other apps. You can look up any work you have selected. You can also look up words directly and quickly narrow search results to only show the definition. You can customize which dictionaries are used as well.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: The iOS Built-In Dictionary.

Now on the Mac we have a Dictionary app and it's easy to use it to look up words. On iOS there doesn't appear to be any default dictionary app. But there is a dictionary built-in. Of course you can also download one of many third party dictionary apps if you want to use that. But if you want to use the built-in dictionary there are a few ways to get to it.

For instance, say you're at a webpage like this one and you want to look up a word. So you can easily do that by tapping on the word to select it, so I'll select this word here, and then one of the things that appears in the toolbar above the selection is Look Up. I can tap that and it will bring up the dictionary definition for that word. It will bring up some other results as well. But I can get to the rest of the dictionary definition by tapping on it and you can see it even says Dictionary at the top and it gives you some information there.

What if you don't see the word? What if it's not there on a webpage. Well, you can simply type the word and then bring up the definition based on that. For instance, I've created a Note here and in this note I can simply type the word, theory, here. I'm going to select it. So I'm going to select my own word that I typed and I can hit Look Up and get the same thing. So I can look up the definition. You can see sometimes you get a longer entry than other times.

Now, you can also just search directly for the word. So say you're here on the Home screen. I'm going to swipe down, this is an iOS 11, and I'm going to swipe down from the middle. I'm going to type the word I want to look up. I'm going to get tons of results. So there it appears in Notes, Safari, Music, Movies, websites, everything. Eventually I'll get to Dictionary. I can tap that and go to the dictionary definition.

Now a really clever way to get directly to the definition is to do space and then define. I find you can just type def and it jumps right to it. But notice at the bottom there it even sometimes gives a suggestion theory definition. So either way you want to do it, define, definition, or def you get to the entry there. It's pretty easy to get into it.

You can make it even easier if you go into Settings. Under Settings you go into Siri & Search. So here's where Siri & Search is found. Right there. You can determine what shows up. One of the things you can turn off here is Suggestions in Look Up. So when you type Look Up, you know you press that little Look Up button, instead of getting all that stuff you're really only to get definitions now. So let's look at that. If I tap there and I hit Look Up you can see it really just gives me the definition. I still have the ability to search the web there but I can go right to the definition.

I had the ability to also customize Search there as well. I can turn things off. So if I don't want to see Maps for instance you saw there was a list of apps there I can turn off the appearance of Maps in results. So you can kind of customize what appears there.

Now notice that I've got Manage Dictionaries here. I'm going to tap that and this will then take me into Settings and into General and into Dictionary. Here you can customize exactly what appears. Which dictionaries appears. So you see it's not just a simple, you know, this is the iOS dictionary and that's it. You have a lot of options including some options that will translate things for you. So you can go ahead and customize and see what you want there.

So a lot of great ways to look up dictionary definitions in iOS on your iPhone or your iPad without having a third party app. The good news is that it's been announced that in iOS 12 a thesaurus will be added as well to this which will be a welcome addition, especially for writers.

Comments: 4 Responses to “The iOS Built-In Dictionary”

    10 months ago

    Dear Gary, Thank you for your continued & informative tutorials. I watch most with great interest. Pete

    Dinorah Costa
    10 months ago

    Thank you for all the information you impart. Q: How to I prevent autocorrect on a word a 1000 x corrected, i.e., “el niño”? It doesn’t matter if I’ve selected Spanish language on iPhone 7 or any prior, autocorrect will always change to El Niño (the atmospheric condition). Always.

    10 months ago

    Dinorah: There are a few ways. One is to simply tap the quoted exact word you typed in the QuickType choices above the keyboard. It should show “niño” as the first choice and Niño as the second. Instead of tapping the spacebar, tap the “niño” to show that you don’t wish to have what you just typed autocorrected. You can also add niño to Settings, General, Keyboard, Text Replacement. Just as niño to niño I think should work.

    Guido Leenders
    10 months ago

    Thanks for this beautiful post, Gary! I learn such a lot from your videos!

Comments Closed.