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Dictionary vs. Thesaurus — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman — Updated on September 21, 2023
A dictionary provides word definitions, pronunciations, and usage, while a thesaurus offers synonyms and antonyms for words. Both are reference tools in linguistics.
Dictionary vs. Thesaurus — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Dictionary and Thesaurus

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Key Differences

A dictionary is a comprehensive reference book that lists words alphabetically, providing details like meanings, pronunciations, origins, and usage examples. On the other hand, a thesaurus is a tool that offers lists of synonyms and antonyms for any given word, helping users find alternative words with similar or opposite meanings.
With the aid of a dictionary, readers can understand unfamiliar words, ensuring clarity and comprehension. A thesaurus, conversely, aids writers in diversifying their vocabulary, preventing the repetition of words and making texts more vibrant and engaging.
While dictionaries delve into the etymology, phonetics, and grammatical attributes of words, the primary focus of a thesaurus is the semantic relationship between words. It doesn't provide definitions but rather groups words based on similarity or opposition in meaning.
The utility of a dictionary often extends to learners of a language, aiding in spelling, pronunciation, and understanding. A thesaurus is valuable for writers, speakers, and poets looking to enrich their language or find the most fitting word for a context.
Overall, while both the dictionary and thesaurus are linguistic tools, they serve distinct purposes. A dictionary offers an in-depth exploration of a word, while a thesaurus presents a spectrum of alternative word choices.
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Comparison Chart

Primary Function

Provides definitions, origins, and usage of words.
Lists synonyms and antonyms for words.

Usage

Helps in understanding and using words correctly.
Aids in diversifying vocabulary in writing.

Content

Definitions, etymology, pronunciation, examples.
Synonyms, antonyms.

Users

Language learners, readers, researchers.
Writers, poets, speakers.

Structure

Entries listed alphabetically with detailed information.
Entries grouped by meaning similarity or contrast.

Compare with Definitions

Dictionary

A linguistic tool detailing word usage and information.
The dictionary entry for run is extensive due to its multiple meanings.

Thesaurus

A collection of words grouped by similarity or opposition in meaning.
For the antonym of ancient, the thesaurus suggested modern.

Dictionary

A guide for spelling, phonetics, and grammar of words.
The student used the dictionary to correct her essay.

Thesaurus

A reference organized by word meanings and relationships.
The thesaurus grouped slender, thin, and narrow together.

Dictionary

An alphabetical list of words with their explanations.
When I encountered an unfamiliar term, I turned to the dictionary.

Thesaurus

An aid for enriching language and diversifying expression.
To improve his poetry, he often turned to a thesaurus.

Dictionary

A dictionary is a listing of lexemes from the lexicon of one or more specific languages, often arranged alphabetically (or by radical and stroke for ideographic languages), which may include information on definitions, usage, etymologies, pronunciations, translation, etc.. It is a lexicographical reference that shows inter-relationships among the data.A broad distinction is made between general and specialized dictionaries.

Thesaurus

A tool offering alternative vocabulary choices.
The writer consulted the thesaurus to avoid repetition in her novel.

Dictionary

A book or electronic resource that lists the words of a language (typically in alphabetical order) and gives their meaning, or gives the equivalent words in a different language, often also providing information about pronunciation, origin, and usage
I'll look up 'love' in the dictionary
The dictionary definition of ‘smile’
The website gives access to an online dictionary

Thesaurus

A thesaurus (plural thesauri or thesauruses) or synonym dictionary is a reference work for finding synonyms and sometimes antonyms of words. They are often used by writers to help find the best word to express an idea: ...to find the word, or words, by which [an] idea may be most fitly and aptly expressed Synonym dictionaries have a long history.

Dictionary

A reference work containing an alphabetical list of words, with information given for each word, usually including meaning, pronunciation, and etymology.

Thesaurus

A book that lists words in groups of synonyms and related concepts.

Dictionary

A reference work containing an alphabetical list of words in one language with their translations in another language.

Thesaurus

A book of synonyms, often including related and contrasting words and antonyms.

Dictionary

A reference work containing an alphabetical list of words in a particular category or subject with specialized information about them
A medical dictionary.

Thesaurus

A book of selected words or concepts, such as a specialized vocabulary of a particular field, as of medicine or music.

Dictionary

A list of words stored in machine-readable form for reference, as by spelling-checking software.

Thesaurus

A publication, traditionally in the form of a book and now often online, that provides synonyms (and sometimes antonyms and other semantic relations) for the words of a given language.
"Roget" is the leading brand name for a print English thesaurus that lists words under general concepts rather than just close synonyms.

Dictionary

A reference work with a list of words from one or more languages, normally ordered alphabetically, explaining each word's meanings (sense), and sometimes also containing information on its etymology, pronunciation, usage, semantic relations, and translations, as well as other data.
If you want to know the meaning of a word, look it up in the dictionary.

Thesaurus

(archaic) A dictionary or encyclopedia.

Dictionary

A synchronic dictionary of a standardised language held to only contain words that are properly part of the language.

Thesaurus

(information science) A hierarchy of subject headings — canonic titles of themes and topics, the titles serving as search keys.

Dictionary

(by extension) Any work that has a list of material organized alphabetically; e.g., biographical dictionary, encyclopedic dictionary.

Thesaurus

A treasury or storehouse; hence, a repository, especially of knowledge; - often applied to a comprehensive work, like a dictionary or cyclopedia.

Dictionary

(computing) An associative array, a data structure where each value is referenced by a particular key, analogous to words and definitions in a dictionary (sense 1).
Hash table

Thesaurus

A book containing a classified list of synonyms

Dictionary

(transitive) To look up in a dictionary.

Thesaurus

A book or online resource listing synonyms and antonyms for words.
I used a thesaurus to find a synonym for happy.

Dictionary

(transitive) To add to a dictionary.

Dictionary

To compile a dictionary.

Dictionary

A book containing the words of a language, arranged alphabetically, with explanations of their meanings; a lexicon; a vocabulary; a wordbook.
I applied myself to the perusal of our writers; and noting whatever might be of use to ascertain or illustrate any word or phrase, accumulated in time the materials of a dictionary.

Dictionary

Hence, a book containing the words belonging to any system or province of knowledge, arranged alphabetically; as, a dictionary of medicine or of botany; a biographical dictionary.

Dictionary

A reference book containing an alphabetical list of words with information about them

Dictionary

A book or online resource providing word meanings, pronunciations, and origins.
I consulted the dictionary to find the meaning of ephemeral.

Dictionary

A reference for word comprehension in reading and writing.
A pocket dictionary can be handy during travels.

Common Curiosities

What is the main purpose of a dictionary?

A dictionary provides definitions, origins, pronunciations, and usage of words.

Why should a writer use a thesaurus?

A thesaurus helps diversify vocabulary and find the most fitting word for context.

How does a thesaurus differ from a dictionary?

A thesaurus lists synonyms and antonyms, focusing on word relationships, while a dictionary offers in-depth word information.

Are all dictionaries structured alphabetically?

Yes, most dictionaries list entries alphabetically for easy reference.

Can I find word origins in a thesaurus?

No, word origins are typically found in dictionaries, not thesauri.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Tayyaba Rehman
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to askdifference.com. As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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