Questions that can be answered using commonly-available references are off-topic. What good reference works on English are available online, and what kinds of questions are they good at answering?

Yeah, it's related, but my goal here is a) to have a more easily accessible list, and b) to have a more complete one (e.g. I remember seeing a few days ago an idiom dictionary). –  zpletan Apr 11 '12 at 12:37
Related: What are your favorite English language tools? –  Mitch Apr 11 '12 at 17:36
@Mitch, that one's related as well, but I think it differs in a) trying to provide broader sets or types of references, and b) setting forth a list of standard references. –  zpletan Apr 11 '12 at 17:39
another section/answer would be grammar/style guides. –  Mitch Apr 11 '12 at 19:19
I honestly don't know too many (read: any) of those—if you do, go ahead and add 'em. –  zpletan Apr 11 '12 at 19:22
The answers are providing a great list of general reference tools. Now can we please get the FAQ and the "closed due to general reference" message to link here? –  Old Pro Jun 4 '12 at 7:58
Could I add a few online English grammar guides under, General Language and English Language Reference? I think new users might find it immediately more useful. My suggestions would be: British Council, Grammar-Quizzes and English Page –  Mari-Lou A Jul 23 '13 at 9:11
@Mari-LouA I don't know those sites but I think this page suffers from a lack of enough standard grammar references. –  MετάEd Aug 10 '13 at 16:22
Well, I think if users were to least refer to these sites for the basics and then come back asking for clarification, it would raise the quality of many questions which for now are being voted either off-topic or duplicates. Another idea might be to select the "best" or the most voted answers from the past, group them together under one or more categories. For example a selection of answers which deal with the differences and usages of "which", "whom", "who" and all their variants. That could become a unique database for future grammar references. –  Mari-Lou A Aug 10 '13 at 16:37
I have suggestions that I do not see already on this thread. As a writer and poet, these sites are invaluable to me. (Part 1) Reference resource: They provide a wide variety of references including the following in their definitions: derivations, origins, nearby words, synonyms, antonyms, related searches, and all forms from the root word. The responses frequently present the sources and extended sources as well, such as the World English Dictionary, Origin & History Dictionary reference, Slang Dictionary, Science Dictionary, Medical Dictionary, and Computing Dictionary. –  Cindy Page Aug 23 '13 at 8:19
(Part 2) The second source I recommend is This site provides the following search possibilities: near rhymes, the usual thesaurus searches like synonyms, and antonyms, plus related words, similar sounding words, homophones, letter match search, spelling assistance, pictures, references found in Shakespeare, or quotations where the word is used. It also has links to the Books of the Bible, a reverse dictionary, and famous quotes. A search can be organized by syllables or by letters, and can include or exclude phrases. (One more section to add.) –  Cindy Page Aug 23 '13 at 8:22
(Part 3)The last recommendation comes from my college and university experiences in writing for classes and in tutoring. If needed, I also have references to learning how to write well through video presentations that address specific subjects in each video. The videos are great for lower level students, for tutoring new college students, for amateur writers, and for answering obscure English usage and grammar questions. They have videos for ESL students, as well. Finally, I noticed you did not reference the Middle English Dictionary which is online at Michigan University. –  Cindy Page Aug 23 '13 at 8:23
I forgot to add the Purdue OWL, the "Online Writing Lab" at Purdue University after mentioning its use at the beginning of Part 3. I should have said go to Purdue OWL for references for college and university writing - for classes, and for research papers. That site has answers to most MLA and APA questions in easy to understand instructions, as well as help in all other areas of writing, from fiction and poetry, to sociology, and the sciences. –  Cindy Page Aug 23 '13 at 8:35
For some reason there's no mention of grammar. Rodney Huddlestone provides a great overview of English syntax. –  Gaston Ümlaut Nov 26 '13 at 10:53

10 Answers 10


Useful for finding definitions, etymologies, pronunciations, and examples of usage.

Wiktionary is useful for background research but shouldn’t be taken as definitive since it can be modified to purposefully support a claim.

Urban Dictionary can be used for finding current and recent slang terms. It has essentially no editorial policy so is one of the least reliable references online. However, definitions have dates which helps tracing the etymology of slang.

Urban Dictionary can be very useful to check first/early definitions and most popular definitions, but of course care must be taken. –  Hugo May 22 '12 at 18:40
It should be noted that dictionaries published in the United States do not use standard Kenyon-Knott phonemic transcription, but rather an archaic, unscientific, and ultimately useless pronunciation system invented in the 18th century by Noah Webster. They are thus not suitable for non-native English speakers, nor for speakers of any English dialect except American English. –  John Lawler Dec 28 '12 at 20:44
Onelook is actually a metalink to other dictionaries and provides no definitions in itself. It is a great starting place. –  bib Aug 29 '13 at 19:27
@StoneyB Wow, thanks, I thought it was actually missing from them books! Love than NED. –  Amphiteóth Dec 4 '14 at 0:46


Useful for finding synonyms of specific words.


General Language and English Language Reference

  • The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, 2nd ed. 2003.
  • The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, 3rd ed. 2010.

Both are written and edited by David Crystal. They should be in every Anglophone classroom in the world, and should be consulted first about questions bearing on English.

All works by David Crystal are trustworthy, but these encyclopedias are really well-organized, and full of useful information.

John, the third edition of the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language was published in 2010. –  Alex B. May 19 '12 at 23:18
Really? That's terrific. No doubt it's even better and more up to date. I'll have to get one. Thanks. –  John Lawler May 19 '12 at 23:32


Useful for finding word usages and collocations.

Are Google Books/Ngrams considered a corpus? –  zpletan Apr 11 '12 at 17:44
sure, it's the text of 'all' books. You won't get the same kinds of things out it as like COCA or BNC. Also, NGrams has a number of difficulties: poor metadata (wrong dates/authors), OCR errors (FPs and FNs because of misreading), poor dealing with punctuation. –  Mitch Apr 11 '12 at 18:47
The “general reference” close reason links here, but Ngrams are tricky enough to use well that I would not recommend closing a question just because it's possible to answer with an Ngram. –  Bradd Szonye Aug 5 '13 at 5:17
Speaking from the layperson's point of view. I don't think the corpora are tools that your average user is familiar with. I have struggled myself to obtain the results I was hoping for. If there could be a type of "for dummies guide" then users and learners alike would be able to successfully exploit these reference instruments. –  Mari-Lou A Aug 10 '13 at 17:03
I think Google Books needs to be somewhere in the "What's a general reference?" conversation. (For that matter, perhaps Google does, too – although maybe that's considered too obvious?) In a question that says something like "Is throw me into the briar patch a common expression?", the O.P. should probably at least check out where it's been used in books before asking. –  J.R. Sep 15 '13 at 11:31
The online corpora are fine if you know what you are doing, but can be a little daunting for people who have not used this type of thing before. Those wishing simply to know how native speakers have used a word before may be better off with –  tunny Nov 5 '14 at 11:40


Major Style Guides

Journalist Style Manuals

Governmental Style Manuals

Note: No government of any major English-speaking country attempts to enforce English style or usage as a matter of law or regulation. These guides are published mainly for writers in the employ of the respective government, agency, or body.


  • Nitpicker is "an overly picky language style checker"

While Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style is widely suggested for beginning writers, its advice and prescriptiveness are criticized by many; in particular, its directives on grammar are suspect.

Grammar and Style are completely different categories and should have separate entries. The last three entries on the list above contain no useful information on English grammar, and to say that Strunk and White "has too many controversial rules to be definitive" is a massive understatement. –  John Lawler May 18 '12 at 18:46
@JohnLawler: Thanks for your comments...please feel free to edit. I realize that grammar and style are not the same, but there is somewhat of a tendency to lump them together. Also, I didn't feel like there were enough entries for either to warrant a single entry. If you know of other resources, please add. –  Mitch May 18 '12 at 19:29
Style should be off topic! –  curiousdannii Nov 17 '14 at 23:28
@curiousdannii it depends on what is meant by style. The things in those books are probably fair game, do you think? –  Mitch Nov 17 '14 at 23:49
@Mitch I don't think I've seen a single good style question here. But it is a pet hate. –  curiousdannii Nov 17 '14 at 23:51
@choster Nice additions! –  Mitch Dec 4 '14 at 23:31


Dictionaries and Lexica

  • Linguee - a search engine rather than an automatic translator, Linguee allows the user to find words and phrases in context in human-translated works, in addition to an editorial dictionary.
  • - a language project by Andreas Schroeter and Patrick Uecker and sponsored by Langenscheidt providing 39 bilingual dictionaries for 28 languages.
  • IATE - provides official translations of terminology as used by EU institutions, maintained by the Translation Centre for the Bodies of the European Union.
  • Termium Plus - provides official translations of the Canadian government into Canadian English and Canadian French

Machine Translations

Machine translations are generated by computer software which compares parallel texts produced by human translators and attempts to identify patterns and apply them to submitted text. The result can be helpful for short, simple text, but is often inaccurate, unidiomatic, or flat-out incorrect, and so should be used with caution.


Okay, I guess I should have added my answers here instead of above in the comments. So, I'll try again. gives all the source references on one page, from English and slang to science, computing, and medical dictionaries, including History and Origin, all from specific dictionaries. It includes nearby words, related searches, and all words from the root. gives rhymes, thesaurus, similar sounding words, quotations, homophones, letter matching search, pictures, and even Shakespeare references. It has links to the Bible books, and famous quotes, and several links to specific genres produced by Shakespeare. I use this site almost daily.

The Purdue OWL is an Online Writing Lab for tutoring or learning to writing well in English. I recommend taking a look, also, at the OWL site map to see the range of subjects covered.

I recommend the site EngVid for clearing up questions about grammar rules, and other English language dilemmas. There are videos for over 500 subjects on that site, all related to English. Some people learn better through watching demonstrations on whiteboard. These videos work well for tutoring, too.

I also believe you need a link to the Middle English Dictionary. It may be an obscure language, but we still study the Canterbury Tales by Chaucer, and John Gower's Confessio Amantis.



For the word you search, it has:

  • Nouns
  • Adverbs
  • Verbs
  • Adjectives
  • Synonyms
  • Antonyms
  • Fuzzynyms

Dissection or Parse of Sentences

Courtesy of, I encountered the Link Parser.


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