How to Choose a Portuguese Dictionary


A good dictionary will help you learn hundreds of new words, improve your pronunciation and grammar. Students often ask me what Portuguese dictionary they should buy at some point of their language study and I thought it would be a good idea to write a post in this blog that not only my students but anyone seeking more guidance on how to choose a good Portuguese dictionary may find it helpful.

Let's put things straight: if you are a learner of Portuguese language and you haven't got a dictionary yet, you are not serious about your course. Period.

When touching this subject with my students, I am often asked: "What is the best Portuguese-English dictionary available?" After these years of classroom experience, I realised that "the best dictionary is the one you use", that is, the best dictionary available for a beginner student is the one he/she enjoys working with.

Dictionaries are fantastic learning tools, however they are not all the same: they come in different formats and knowing how to choose the right one for you is not difficult, as you can find out below:

1) Dictionary Formats

English-Portuguese dictionaries are available in basically 3 different formats, and often include a grammar reference and usage examples.

- Paper dictionaries – they can range from small pocket-sized editions to large, comprehensive multi-volume works. If you are a beguinner student, aim for a mid-size dictionary, never a pocket edition, you will understand why as you carry on reading this text.

- Handheld electronic dictionaries -- An electronic dictionary is a portable electronic device that serves as the digital form of any kind of dictionary. Available in a number of forms, electronic dictionaries range in function from general single-language dictionaries to very specific, terminology-based dictionaries for medical, legal, and other professional language. You can find more info on this type of dictionary here.

- Online dictionaries and APPS – these are often easy to search, but not always free to use, and in some cases lack the accuracy (particularly in open collaborative dictionaries), or scope of printed and electronic dictionaries.

2) Dictionary sizes

Dictionaries can be bought in 3 sizes: small ones that will fit into a bag or pocket; desk ones and super big editions, usually very expensive and not intended to be carried around in trips.

Pocket, mini, gem and concise English-Portuguese dictionaries

These dictionaries will will have shorter, to the point definitions for words, to get more definitions into a small space

The Langenscheidt Pocket Dictionary - 50,000 words

Larousse Pocket Dictionary - 55,000 words, 60,000 translations

Oxford Portuguese Mini Dictionary - . 60,000 translations, 40,000 words

Lonely Planet Portuguese Phrasebook & Dictionary - 3500-word two-way dictionary

Berlitz: Portuguese Pocket Dictionary - 30,000 entries

Collins gem dictionary - the Editor doesn't provide the number of entries.

Mid-size desk Dictionaries:

These dictionaries may have the same number of entries as the pocket ones, however they tend to offer more inofrmation about each entry, good ones will offer sentences using the target word.

The Routledge Portuguese Bilingual Dictionary - 65,000 entries

Oxford Essential Portuguese Dictionary - 60,000 translations, 40,000 words

Collins Essential (basic) dictionary - The Editor doesn't provide the number of entries in this dictionary.