Looking Up a Word

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary and Thesaurus is very easy to use. To look up a word, simply type it in a search box and click on SEARCH or press ENTER.

Of course, you can search for any boldface term. In the dictionary, that includes main entries, inflected forms (e.g., plurals, past tense forms), variant spellings, run-on entries (e.g., homographs with a different part of speech or phrases derived from the main entry), and entries that can be found in the Abbreviations, Foreign Words and Phrases, Biographical Names, and Geographical Names sections of the print dictionary.

NOTE: To get the most out of the online dictionary and thesaurus, you should also have a thorough understanding of the typographical conventions used in the texts. A complete explanation of those conventions can be found in the Explanatory Notes to the Online Dictionary and the Explanatory Notes to the Online Thesaurus.

Wildcard Searches

Wildcard characters let you search for words when you don't know all the letters in them—for example, if you're not sure how to spell a word. The Online Merriam-Webster Dictionary and Thesaurus lets you use the standard wildcards "?" and "*" to help in such situations.

The wildcard symbol "?" represents any single character and the wildcard symbol "*" represents any string of characters. Just use them to replace the letters you don't know. For example, a search in the dictionary for m?n will find man and men as well as the abbreviations min, mon, mtn, and mun. A search for m*n will find those entries and will also find macaroon, magnification, maiden, maintain, and many other words that begin with m and end with n.

Search Results

When you do a search with the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary and Thesaurus, you may see three kinds of results: a full entry for the word you searched; a list of words, compounds, or phrases that contain the word you searched for; or a screen informing you that your word was not found.

The dictionary and thesaurus automatically display the first main entry that is an exact match for the word you searched. If the dictionary or thesaurus includes any other main entries that contain the word you typed, a list of those words will appear in a scrollable list box on the top right of the Results Screen. You can view the entry for any word in this list by highlighting it and clicking on the GO TO button.

The words in the Results List generally appear in alphabetical order, with the homographs for the word you typed first, followed by compounds containing the word. (NOTE: Homographs are words that are spelled the same but that are entered separately in the dictionary because they differ in pronunciation, derivation, or part of speech.)

If you searched for a word that has entries in several different sections of the dictionary (e.g., Abbreviations, Biographical Names), the words from the main A-Z vocabulary section are listed first, followed by those from the Abbreviations, Foreign Words and Phrases, Biographical Names, and Geographical Names sections.


All cross-references that appear in SMALL CAPITALS are linked to the appropriate entry. Simply click on the linked text (which appears in most browsers underlined and usually in a different color) to access the entry for a linked word.

Starting a New Search

To begin a new search, simply click on the NEW SEARCH button on the Results Screen.

Spelling Help

If the word you search for is misspelled or is not entered in the dictionary or thesaurus, you will see a screen with the message, "No entries found that match your query. Here is a list of similar words." You will see a scrollable list of possible alternatives (including spelling alternatives) for the word you typed. To view an entry for one of the words in the list, highlight it and click on the GO TO button.

If the spell checker still doesn't help, try a wildcard search. Type the letters you know in the word and use the asterisk (*) to represent the letters you aren't sure of. The Results List will show you all the words that match the pattern you type.

Inflected Forms

Searching for inflected forms, such as the plural of a noun or the past tense of a verb, can present special problems. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary shows such forms only when they are irregular or there is likely to be some question in the user's mind about spelling; for example, daisies is shown as the plural of daisy because the y of the singular becomes ie in the plural, but flowers is not shown as the plural of flower because it is a regular form and involves no spelling difficulties. (For more about inflected forms, see the Explanatory Notes to the Online Dictionary.)

To make searches more effective in this program, a number of additional inflected forms have been added to the index of the Main Entry field. This means that although the plural flowers is not displayed when you view the entry for flower, if you search for flowers the program will still find the singular form and display its entry.

Illustrations and Tables

Many of the entries in the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary include illustrations or tables. To access an entry's illustration or table, click on the linked text that appears at the end of an entry. The linked text provides information about the size and format of the illustration or table.

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