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What are the best Latin-English dictionaries for Learning Latin?

This article has been reviewed in accordance with our editorial policy.

What is the best Latin dic­tio­nary? There is no “best” dic­tio­nary because it depends on your needs. In this arti­cle we’ll exam­ine six pop­u­lar dic­tio­nar­ies, so that you can make an informed deci­sion when get­ting a dic­tio­nary. The focus here is on dic­tio­nar­ies for read­ing Latin pro­duced dur­ing antiquity.

The best Latin-Eng­lish dic­tio­nary for begin­ners, and peo­ple with a casu­al inter­est in Latin, is The Ban­tam New Col­lege Latin & Eng­lish Dic­tio­nary. For inter­me­di­ate to advanced read­ers, both Cas­sel­l’s Stan­dard Latin Dic­tio­nary and Cham­bers Mur­ray Latin-Eng­lish Dic­tio­nary are excel­lent choic­es. For more advanced stu­dents and schol­ars, the stan­dard lex­i­cons are Lewis & Short and Oxford Latin Dictionary.

That’s the short answer, but there are many things to con­sid­er when decid­ing on a dic­tio­nary, so you don’t get the wrong one. In this arti­cle, we’ll dis­cuss all you need to know to make an informed choice, and we will com­pare entries from var­i­ous dictionaries. 

Let’s begin.

What do you need from a Latin Dictionary?

Before decid­ing on a dic­tio­nary, you have to know what you want to use it for. Latin-Eng­lish dic­tio­nar­ies dif­fer wide­ly and are writ­ten for very dif­fer­ent audi­ences. It’s impor­tant that you choose one suit­ed for your needs.

If you are in school, your teacher may want you to use a par­tic­u­lar one. Ask for sug­ges­tions. Some­times, you might not even need a dic­tio­nary, for instance if you are using a text­book with a full glossary. 

If you decide you need a Latin dic­tio­nary, here are four things to consider:

  • Con­tents
  • Size
  • Time peri­od
  • Com­pre­hen­sive­ness

Con­tents: Do you want more than just definitions?

Many Eng­lish-Latin dic­tio­nar­ies con­tain much more than Eng­lish def­i­n­i­tions of Latin words. Some also have an Eng­lish-Latin sec­tion, sec­tions on pro­nun­ci­a­tion, con­ju­ga­tions and dec­li­na­tions, Roman his­to­ry, poet­ry, etc. Ask your­self what you think you will need. Remem­ber that you can also find con­ju­ga­tions, dec­li­na­tions, and pro­nun­ci­a­tion in any Latin gram­mar. How­ev­er, if you are still unsure of the forms, it might be prac­ti­cal to have them in the dictionary.

Sug­gest­ed read­ing: How to Learn and Mem­o­rize Latin Declen­sions (and conjugations)

Size: How many words do you need your Latin dic­tio­nary to have? 

Some dic­tio­nar­ies have 40’000 words and phras­es, while oth­ers aim to con­tain all attest­ed words from the lit­er­a­ture of a cer­tain peri­od. If you want to look up rare or a wide vari­ety of words, make sure your dic­tio­nary is a large one! 

Note that if you want to look up spe­cial­ized ter­mi­nol­o­gy, e.g., botan­i­cal terms, make sure to find a dic­tio­nary spe­cial­ized in that area or one with mod­ern Latin ter­mi­nol­o­gy. Most Latin dic­tio­nar­ies are writ­ten for read­ers of clas­si­cal Latin and, in some cas­es, medieval and neo-Latin.

Time peri­od: What peri­od of Latin are you reading?

Most Latin dic­tio­nar­ies spe­cial­ize in the usage of a par­tic­u­lar peri­od. This is nat­ur­al since Latin was used in many domains not only by the Romans but dur­ing the Mid­dle Ages and beyond. One dic­tio­nary might con­tain words from, e.g., 200 B.C. to 100 A.D., while anoth­er might cov­er the words up to 400 A.D.

Lev­el of Detail: What infor­ma­tion do you want? 

This is the most impor­tant ques­tion. Some dic­tio­nar­ies only give you the Eng­lish def­i­n­i­tion, while oth­ers also pro­vide exam­ples and notes on how the word is used. The most com­pre­hen­sive dic­tio­nar­ies will show how the usage and mean­ing of the word are dif­fer­ent depend­ing on, e.g., genre, author, and time peri­ods. So ask yourself:

  1. Do you want to look up a word to get a gen­er­al idea of its meaning? 
  2. Do you want to get an in-depth under­stand­ing of the usage and var­i­ous meanings?

Note! If you are trans­lat­ing to or from Latin, use a dic­tio­nary that is rich with exam­ples and notes on usage so you can find the right definition.

Addi­tion­al things to con­sid­er: paper vs digital

You might also con­sid­er if you want a paper or a dig­i­tal dic­tio­nary. Paper dic­tio­nar­ies may have their charm–and weight–but dig­i­tal ones are supe­ri­or in speed. If read­abil­i­ty is a con­cern for you, note that most dic­tio­nar­ies have a rather small font size, while a dig­i­tal one can usu­al­ly be adapt­ed to the user’s needs.

Now, it might seem like I am against paper dic­tio­nar­ies. Far from it, I love them. Fur­ther­more, most Latin dic­tio­nar­ies exist only in paper for­mat. So, if you decide you need a dig­i­tal one, your options are much fewer.

Six popular dictionaries

Now that you know what you need the dic­tio­nary for, let’s con­sid­er some pop­u­lar and often rec­om­mend­ed Latin dic­tio­nar­ies. Since no dic­tio­nary fits every­one, we will look at dic­tio­nar­ies geared towards dif­fer­ent audiences. 

  • Collins Latin dictionary
  • Ban­tams New Col­lege Dictionary
  • Cas­sel­l’s Stan­dard Latin Dictionary
  • The Ban­tam New Col­lege Latin & Eng­lish Dic­tio­nary
  • Lewis & Short
  • Oxford Latin Dictionary

I have divid­ed these dic­tio­nar­ies into three cat­e­gories termed tier 1, tier 2, and tier 3.

  • Tier I are small­er dic­tio­nar­ies that pro­vide only the most rudi­men­ta­ry infor­ma­tion, e.g., Eng­lish def­i­n­i­tions of a Latin word with no exam­ples from Latin lit­er­a­ture. They usu­al­ly have an Eng­lish-Latin sec­tion and addi­tion­al sec­tions on gram­mar, his­to­ry, etc.
  • Tier 2 are medi­um-sized dic­tio­nar­ies that pro­vide the Eng­lish def­i­n­i­tions and exam­ples of usage tak­en from Latin literature. 
  • Tier 3 are the largest Latin-Eng­lish dic­tio­nar­ies and con­tain most or all attest­ed words dur­ing a par­tic­u­lar time peri­od and give com­pre­hen­sive infor­ma­tion on mean­ings across time and gen­res with ample exam­ples and notes on usage.

Pros, cons, and recommendations

For each dic­tio­nary we’ll give a brief overview of its con­tents, before con­sid­er­ing the pros and cons and what pur­pose it might serve. In all dic­tio­nar­ies, we will look up the same word so that you can get a bet­ter idea of what infor­ma­tion they pro­vide and how it is pre­sent­ed. Final­ly, I will give my thoughts on whether a cer­tain dic­tio­nary is worth get­ting or not. 

   Note! Dic­tio­nar­ies are like shoes, you use them a lot. So, before you make up your mind, pre­view the dic­tio­nary, and look up a few words.        

Tier 1: Basic–intermediate dictionaries

These are all-in-one dic­tio­nar­ies with no or very lim­it­ed infor­ma­tion on word usage.

Collins Latin Dictionary: Dictionary & Grammar

  • 640 pages
  • Basic Eng­lish definitions
  • Latin-Eng­lish
  • Eng­lish-Latin
  • Addi­tion­al sections
  • App ver­sion

This dic­tio­nary is only on this list because it is often rec­om­mend­ed to begin­ners. Collins Latin Dic­tio­nary is a basic Latin dic­tio­nary, with ca. 47’000 thou­sand Latin head­words. Like many small­er dic­tio­nar­ies geared towards schools and begin­ners, Collins has a Latin-Eng­lish, an Eng­lish-Latin sec­tion, and a basic gram­mar sec­tion, includ­ing tables of declen­sions and con­ju­ga­tions. There is an app ver­sion of this dic­tio­nary-mak­ing queries much more efficient.

When it comes to the dic­tio­nary entries them­selves, they are, of course, very lim­it­ed, most­ly giv­ing basic infor­ma­tion on dec­li­na­tion, con­ju­ga­tion, and parts of speech togeth­er with Eng­lish definitions. 

Sam­ple entry

Below is a sam­ple entry of the verb acce­do from Collins Latin Dictionary:

What is the verdict?

It’s an ele­men­tary Latin dic­tio­nary that aims to be an all-in-one resource for stu­dents. It does the job of pre­sent­ing lists of words with def­i­n­i­tions. How­ev­er, one thing I don’t like is that only the mas­cu­line form of adjec­tives is list­ed, e.g., Absonus and acclivis, instead of absonus, ‑a, ‑um, or acclivis, ‑is, ‑e. Fur­ther­more, even for a basic dic­tio­nary, I would like to see some more infor­ma­tion on usage, but maybe that’s just me.

So if you only want to look up com­mon Latin words and get a sim­ple def­i­n­i­tion in Eng­lish, it might suf­fice. But I would not rec­om­mend it. I would rather sug­gest you get a slight­ly larg­er dic­tio­nary with many of the same fea­tures, which still avoids being overwhelming.

If you want a large num­ber or head­words with notes and exam­ples of usage, this is def­i­nite­ly not the Latin dic­tio­nary for you.

The Bantam New College Latin & English Dictionary by John Traupman

Overview

  • 708 pages
  • Latin-Eng­lish
  • Eng­lish-Latin
  • Notes on constructions
  • Sec­tion on basic grammar
  • His­tor­i­cal, geo­graph­i­cal, mytho­log­i­cal names

The Ban­tam New Col­lege Latin & Eng­lish Dic­tio­nary is a pop­u­lar dic­tio­nary with over 200 rat­ings on Ama­zon. It’s a medi­um sized dic­tio­nary with 70’000 words and phras­es, and, like Collins, has addi­tion­al sec­tions that might be of inter­est to begin­ners (e.g. pro­nun­ci­a­tion, gram­mar, his­to­ry, mythol­o­gy). In addi­tion it also has an Eng­lish-Latin sec­tion. Ban­tam stands out with some inter­est­ing addi­tions, such as slang and vul­gar expres­sions and neo-Latin vocabulary.

Sam­ple entry.

Below is the entire entry for the Latin verb acce­do in the Ban­tam New Col­lege Latin & Eng­lish Dictionary:

Ver­dict

This is a great dic­tio­nary for any­one start­ing out or with a casu­al inter­est in Latin. It has rather suc­cinct arti­cles giv­ing the Eng­lish def­i­n­i­tion and a note on var­i­ous con­struc­tions of the word (e.g. if it is used with the dative or accusative). A wel­come addi­tion to a basic dic­tio­nary is the addi­tion of lat­er Latin and neo-latin! Latin is indeed more than just Cicero and Vergil!

Like Collins, Bantham’s is more than just a Latin-Eng­lish dic­tio­nary, with an Eng­lish-Latin dic­tio­nary and sec­tions on gram­mar and history. 

For any­one want­i­ng to read lit­er­a­ture or use Latin active­ly, I think the lack of exam­ples from lit­er­a­ture and lim­it­ed info on con­struc­tions makes this less than ideal. 

If, how­ev­er, you want a good all-in-one resource, and be able to look up a word and get a gen­er­al idea of its mean­ing, I would absolute­ly rec­om­mend this dictionary.

Tier 2: Intermediate-Advanced Dictionaries

We now come to the next tier of Latin lex­i­cons. Here we are look­ing at dic­tio­nar­ies with exam­ples of usage tak­en from Latin literature.

Cassell’s (standard) Latin Dictionary

  • 883 pages
  • Latin-Eng­lish
  • Eng­lish-Latin
  • Exam­ples from Latin literature
  • Sec­tions with idiomat­ic expressions

Cassell’s Latin Dic­tio­nary is anoth­er very pop­u­lar dic­tio­nary with over 100 reviews on Ama­zon and an aver­age of 4.5 stars.

It is a rather com­pre­hen­sive Latin dic­tio­nary, but what sets this apart from Collins and the Ban­tam New Col­lege Latin Dic­tio­nary are the many exam­ples of usage tak­en from Latin lit­er­a­ture. This is a key resource for under­stand­ing how Latin words are used and change mean­ing in var­i­ous con­texts. Like the pre­vi­ous dic­tio­nar­ies, this too has an Eng­lish-Latin section.

I espe­cial­ly like the sep­a­rate sec­tion in the entries where idiomat­ic expres­sions con­tain­ing the head­word are presented.

Cons.

While the Ban­tam dic­tio­nary con­tains a wel­come addi­tion of late and neo-Latin words, Cas­sells cov­ers only the peri­od of 200 B.C. to 100 A.D. Anoth­er draw­back is that the full source is not giv­en for exam­ples, only the author’s name! Let’s look up the word acces­sio:

We see an exam­ple suis acces­sion­ibus from Cicero since it says Cic. But it does not say where in his vast body of work the expres­sion occurs. So if we want to look at the con­text to real­ly under­stand how to use it, we have to search using a Latin cor­pus. (It’s from Cicero’s sec­ond speech against Ver­res (2.2).)

Sam­ple entry

Below is a sam­ple entry of the verb acce­do from Cassell’s Latin Dic­tio­nary:

What’s the verdict?

If you are study­ing Latin and read­ing Clas­si­cal texts beyond a few sen­tences here and there, it is an excel­lent dic­tio­nary. It gives most of what you need with­out being (too) over­whelm­ing: a vari­ety of Eng­lish def­i­n­i­tions with notes on con­struc­tions and exam­ples of usage from Latin literature. 

In addi­tion to being a rather com­pre­hen­sive Latin-Eng­lish dic­tio­nary, it also has a sec­tion for trans­lat­ing from Eng­lish into Latin. For advanced Latin com­po­si­tion, how­ev­er, you would need to use a ded­i­cat­ed Eng­lish-Latin dic­tio­nary such as Smith-Hall.

As you advance in your stud­ies, I rec­om­mend you start using either Lewis & Short or the Oxford Latin Dic­tio­nary in con­junc­tion with this. (See below.)

Chambers Murray Latin-English Dictionary

  • 832 pages
  • Latin-Eng­lish dictionary
  • Includes some lat­er latin
  • Notes on usage
  • Exam­ples from Latin literature

Cham­bers Mur­ray Latin-Eng­lish Dic­tio­nary is anoth­er com­mon­ly rec­om­mend­ed dic­tio­nary. It is very sim­i­lar to Cas­sells but is more com­pre­hen­sive, cov­er­ing a some­what longer time peri­od (ca. 200 B.C.–200 A.D. with some lat­er authors, e.g., Clau­di­anus and Auso­nius.) Like Cas­sel­l’s, this dic­tio­nary gives exam­ples from Latin lit­er­a­ture and some notes on usage.

Cons.

The major draw­back of this dic­tio­nary, like Cassell’s, is that it does not give full sources for the quotes from Latin authors. 

Sam­ple entry

Ver­dict

As Cas­sells, this is an excel­lent dic­tio­nary for read­ing clas­si­cal Latin and would suf­fice for most inter­me­di­ate to advanced students.

I lean towards Cas­sel­l’s due to the Eng­lish-Latin sec­tion and the col­lec­tion of idiomat­ic expres­sions in the arti­cles. How­ev­er, if you want to read any­thing beyond clas­si­cal Latin, Cham­bers-Mur­ray is a bet­ter choice since it includes lat­er authors. 

I would, how­ev­er, sug­gest that stu­dents start using Lewis & Short as well, to get used to sort­ing through the longer entries. This is the first dic­tio­nary thus far that does not have an Eng­lish-Latin dictionary.

Tier 3: Advanced and Scholarly Dictionaries

Now we turn to the most com­pre­hen­sive Latin-Eng­lish dic­tio­nar­ies. These are writ­ten for advanced stu­dents and schol­ars and are com­pre­hen­sive.

Lewis & Short

  • 2019 pages
  • Latin-Eng­lish
  • 2nd cen­tu­ry B.C. –8th cen­tu­ry A.D. 
  • Exam­ples from literature
  • Notes on usage and etymology

Lewis & Short is, with­out a doubt, the most com­mon­ly used Latin dic­tio­nary for learn­ers and schol­ars out there. This is because it is one of the most com­pre­hen­sive Latin dic­tio­nar­ies cov­er­ing clas­si­cal Latin and much lat­er writ­ers. It is also freely avail­able online.

Lewis & Short was pub­lished in 1879 under the title Harper’s Latin Dic­tio­nary. It was based on the trans­la­tion of the Ger­man dic­tio­nary Wörter­buch der Lateinis­chen Sprache. Although it has been crit­i­cized through­out the years for slight inac­cu­ra­cies, both regard­ing def­i­n­i­tions and, more par­tic­u­lar­ly, vow­el quan­ti­ties, it is still the stan­dard dic­tio­nary used by schol­ars today.

Sam­ple entry from Lewis & Short

Let’s look up acce­do in Lewis & Short as well:

As you can see, the entries are very dense, but very comprehensive.

Ver­dict

Lewis & Short is a vast dic­tio­nary cov­er­ing writ­ers from 200 B.C. to 800 A.D. It gives ample notes and exam­ples of usage, giv­ing the read­er a clear sense of a par­tic­u­lar word’s mean­ing and, some­times, even register.

One of the crit­i­cisms levied against it is its rather dense and con­fus­ing dis­po­si­tion, which takes quite some time to get used to. Nev­er­the­less, for most advanced study and research, it is the only Latin dic­tio­nary you’ll need 

Oxford Latin Dictionary

  • 2400 pages
  • Ca. 200 B.C. to 200 A.D.
  • Latin-Eng­lish
  • Exam­ples from literature
  • Based on mod­ern editions
  • Notes on usage and etymology

Note! This dic­tio­nary should not be con­fused with the Oxford Latin desk dic­tio­nary.

The Oxford Latin Dic­tio­nary was com­mis­sioned at the start of the 20th cen­tu­ry to replace the aging Lewis & Short. It can hard­ly be said to have suc­ceed­ed in that endeavour. 

It stands apart from Lewis & Short in that it is not based on pre­vi­ous dic­tio­nar­ies but is a new work rely­ing on new­er edi­tions and read­ings of texts.

Togeth­er with its elder foe Lewis & Short, the OLD is a stan­dard for advanced stu­dents and schol­ars of Latin. How­ev­er, it’s an enor­mous work of 2400 pages, cov­er­ing Latin up to 200 A.D., exclud­ing most Chris­t­ian writers. 

Its arti­cles are very com­pre­hen­sive with many exam­ples. One strength lies in the clear dis­po­si­tion of arti­cles mak­ing find­ing the rel­e­vant sense com­par­a­tive­ly easy for the read­er. The OLD is also a rather new dic­tio­nary (1968–88), using mod­ern read­ings and edi­tions of texts, thus con­sid­er­ing much of the research done since the pub­li­ca­tion of Lewis and Short at the end of the 19th century. 

This also means that the Eng­lish used in the def­i­n­i­tions is mod­ern, elim­i­nat­ing the risk of mis­in­ter­pret­ing the def­i­n­i­tion due to seman­tic drift since 19th century.

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Sam­ple entry from Oxford Latin Dictionary

Here is the entry for acce­do:

As you can see from the image above, the entries are vast. They pro­vide count­less exam­ples of usage across gen­res and time.

What’s the verdict?

If you are an advanced learn­er and want to dive deep into the dif­fer­ent nuances and usages of words, it is a great resource. This is, how­ev­er, by no means a per­fect dic­tio­nary. The major draw­back is the lim­it­ed time peri­od of the dic­tio­nary and the hefty price tag of $300–400. Fur­ther­more, the absence of infor­ma­tion regard­ing ante clas­si­cal, clas­si­cal, and post-clas­si­cal usage is unfor­tu­nate. This is in stark con­trast to Lewis & Short, where you will often find this type of infor­ma­tion. The strength of OLD is its clear lay­out and mod­ern read­ings and def­i­n­i­tions, which makes this dic­tio­nary very read­able and not only consultable. 

It is judi­cial to use the OLD in con­junc­tion with Lewis & Short to give you more exam­ples and more infor­ma­tion on the usage of a par­tic­u­lar word. 

Conclusion

We’ve looked at three types of dic­tio­nar­ies, from the very basic to the most com­pre­hen­sive. Some are suit­able for begin­ners or peo­ple with a casu­al inter­est in Latin, while oth­ers are suit­able for inter­me­di­ate stu­dents, and yet oth­ers for advanced stu­dents and schol­ars. Ban­tams New Col­lege Dic­tio­nary, Cas­sel­l’s Latin Dic­tio­nary, Cham­bers Mur­ray, Lewis & Short, and OLD are all great dic­tio­nar­ies. They can all be the best dic­tio­nary, depend­ing on the situation.

In the end, the best dic­tio­nary is the one that will meet your needs, that you like and that you will actu­al­ly use. If you plan to do your study­ing on the sub­way, the OLD with its 2400 pages might get left at home. 

Additional Latin Dictionaries

What dic­tio­nar­ies are there for medieval and neo-Latin?

First, there is the “sup­ple­ment” to OLD cov­er­ing late antiq­ui­ty up to 600 A.D., A. Souter, A Glos­sary of Lat­er Latin to 600 A.D. (1949). Next is the stan­dard dic­tio­nary for medieval Latin Ducange Glos­sar­i­um ad scrip­tores medi­ae et infi­mae Latini­tatis (Niort 1883–87), which is freely avail­able online. For Renais­sance Latin there is R. Hov­en, Lex­ique de la Prose Latine de la Renais­sance (Lei­den 1994).

Which is the best Eng­lish-Latin Dic­tio­nary for trans­lat­ing into Latin?

One of the best and most com­pre­hen­sive is Smith & Hal­l’s Eng­lish-Latin Dic­tio­nary, freely avail­able online here at Latinitium.com. Although they are very detailed, I would sug­gest you con­sult dic­tio­nar­ies of Latin syn­onyms to know which word is suit­able for which con­text. You can find a guide to the best dic­tio­nar­ies of Latin syn­onyms here.

What mono­lin­gual Latin-Latin dic­tio­nar­ies are there?

Totius Latini­tatis Lex­i­con (For­celli­ni) and The­saurus Lin­guae Lati­nae (TLL). For­celli­ni is a cen­turies’ old clas­sic with def­i­n­i­tions in a clear Latin style. For­celli­ni is a great resource (avail­able here), but due to its age, it relies on old edi­tions and read­ings of texts. TLL is set to be the largest Latin dic­tio­nary ever cre­at­ed. Begun in the 19th cen­tu­ry, it is not yet fin­ished. Like For­celli­ni, it is entire­ly in Latin.

This is the best resource for get­ting a deep and chrono­log­i­cal under­stand­ing for the mean­ing and usage of words. As of 2019 the The­saurus Lin­guae Lati­nae is freely avail­able online!

*This arti­cle con­tains affil­i­ate links, which means that we make a small com­mis­sion from any sales—without affect­ing the price for you.

Daniel Pettersson

Daniel Pettersson

Teacher and author Daniel Pettersson, M.A., is co-founder of Latinitium and is currently teaching Latin at Stockholm University, where he is also working on his Ph.D. dissertation on Humanist Colloquia. Daniel believes in the importance of Latin literature in the modern world and that you can teach yourself Latin with the right motivation, method, and material.
Written by Daniel Pettersson

Written by Daniel Pettersson

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