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How to use Online Learner Dictionaries

Learning new vocabulary and using it in context is one of the most important ways you can improve your language skills. Learners often develop useful techniques to learn and remember new vocabulary, such as trying to identify words in context, creating word lists, and using learner dictionaries devoted to vocabulary.

To support learners in learning vocabulary, Oxford University Press has created the Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries site.

If you want to find out what a word means, follow this link and enter it at the top of the page. This not only gives you the definition, but also information on word class (verb, noun etc.), examples of that word in context, and a list of idioms and phrasal verbs that contain that particular word.

This is the easiest and quickest way to look up a word you don’t know.

The Oxford 3000 and Oxford 5000

At Oxford University Press, we have also created the Oxford 3000 and the Oxford 5000 to help learners build their English vocabulary. These are lists of the most important words for learners to acquire as they progress from A1-C2 of the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR).

‘Most important’ means that they are the words that appear in the English language the most often, based on the Oxford English Corpus. About 80% of almost any English text is made up of the 2,000 most frequent words. Therefore, knowledge of the 3,000 most frequent words in English gives learners a very high coverage of the words they are likely to see and hear. The lists include basic function words, common verbs, everyday nouns, and adjectives.

How YOU can use the Oxford 3000 and 5000 to improve your language proficiency

Oxford University Press uses the Oxford 3000 and 5000 wordlists to help produce content for the Oxford Test of English proficiency test, as well as Oxford University Press course books.

This ensures consistency across versions of the test, as the content has been developed in the same way, using the same word list tools. This means that test results will be more reliable and fairer for test-takers.

You can access the Oxford 3000 and 5000 through the dictionaries site to guide your own learning.

Go to word lists and then select ‘Oxford 3000 and 5000’. The wordlists provide information about individual words, such as the part of speech (adjective, verb etc.), the CEFR level of that word, guidance on pronunciation in both British and American English, clear definitions, examples of the word used in context, and collocations (other words which are commonly used with the word you looked up).

Use the wordlists to:

  • Filter the words by CEFR level, identifying the words you should prioritise at your level.

  • Look up new words you have found in a text or a language activity. See if they are on the list, then look up the level and meaning.

  • Identify word class, which can affect CEFR level. For example, the word ‘book’ as a noun is A1 but ‘book’, as a verb (i.e. ‘to reserve’), is A2.

  • Learn how to use a word in different contexts. For example, if you know the word ‘accommodation’ but want to know more about how to use it, such as which verbs to use with it, then the wordlist can help you by showing you that ‘accommodation is included’; ‘accommodation is provided’; accommodation is available. In terms of adjectives, it may be ‘office’, ‘furnished’ or ‘suitable’. You may learn less-common uses of this word as well, such as a synonym for ‘agreement’.

  • Explore further. You may find the word you look up has many meanings, or it belongs to a larger family of words, or it is used in a variety of contexts. These can be found in the keyword entries for each word.

As you can see, the Oxford 3000 and 5000 offers more than a traditional learners dictionary.

These tools identify the words you are most likely to come across when using English in the real world, so you can have a clear idea of which words you should focus on learning, based on your level of ability.


Nathaniel Owen is a Senior Research and Validation Manager at OUP. He holds a PhD in language testing from the University of Leicester and has published articles and book chapters on subjects including language testing, research methods in education, and widening participation in higher education. He has also experience teaching English as a foreign language in Spain, the UK, and Australia, with expertise in teaching EAP and exam preparation courses.

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