Thursday, October 8, 2009

The best free online Spanish-English dictionaries

My series on free online dictionaries (previously covering Japanese and Chinese) continues. Today I've got my favorite, free, online Spanish-English dictionaries for you, after the jump.

  1. WordReference is my first choice in Spanish, and it's often the only choice I ever need. Not only does it provide you free access to a few different traditional (read: dead-tree) dictionaries whenever you look up a word, but it also has its own content.

    If none of those get you the definition, then it's time to turn to's forums. With hundreds of thousands of entries in the forums, I've almost always found that whatever I'm looking for that's not already in the dictionary is already in the forums. And, when that fails, posting something in the forum will get you a quick response. For example, I put up this post when I was trying to figure out how to say "I'll spare you the details" in Spanish (f.y.i., it's "Te ahorraré los detalles"). I got the answers I needed in a minute. That's right; one, single minute.

  2. Reverso: Reverso doesn't have quite the depth of's content, but it is a solid dictionary and once in a while I manage to find a phrase there that I couldn't find in Given the breadth of and its powerful forums, I rarely use this, but it does provide a good back-up.

  3. takes third place here because it doesn't seem to have quite the breadth of the first two. It does have concise definitions, so it might be a good thing to use if you're just starting out and don't need the level of detail found in Like, it also has forums used in a similar manner, but they're no where near as developed as's.
There are also two other online dictionaries that bear mentioning but not inclusion in the above list: and Ultralingua. Because you can only perform a handful of searches in these dictionaries per day (they limit you in the hope that you'll buy an unlimited version), they're not really completely free, but they can serve as a good fall-back when none of the other dictionaries are getting what you need. If you use them only in that way, you're pretty unlikely to ever hit their daily-use limit.

You might note that I didn't mention example sentences or the ability to listen to words being pronounced at all above. That's because, unlike the selections in Japanese and Chinese, there are no dictionaries that I'm aware of that implement these features in Spanish. Although you can find pretty much any word you like in the above dictionaries, you're often on your own to find a way to hear the pronunciations (here's one way to do that) and to find example sentences. There are of course some example sentences in the dictionaries above, but there's definitely no systematic sentence collection from net sources like that found in the Japanese-English dictionary ALC.

As always, let's hear what you've got to say in the comments below—especially if you can point me to an even better dictionary that I missed!

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