Updated: 14 July 2013
Arabic dictionaries are crucial for learners of the Arabic language. Using the right dictionary can save you hours of frustration searching for that elusive Arabic word. I’ll show you some of the best Arabic dictionaries I’ve used – both hardcopies and online.
Physical Arabic Dictionaries
Al-Mawrid has an awesome Arabic-English dictionary that is arranged alphabetically and has vowel markings to help with pronunciation. They also have a volume for the English-Arabic equivalent. The great thing about al-Mawrid is that its vocabulary is massive, so you’ll very likely find what you are looking for.
The Hans Wehr Arabic-English dictionary is very good. It doesn’t have vowel markings, but there are transliterations for all the words. The main difference between these two dictionaries is that Hans Wehr is organized according to Arabic roots, so you would find the verb “to talk” (takallama) not under the letter “taa'”, but under the letter “kaaf”, because (takallama) derives from “kalama”. The Mawrid dictionary on the other hand is organized alphabetically. Hans Wehr has “only” authored an Arabic-English dictionary.
Generally speaking, al-Mawrid is more up-to-date than the Hans Wehr dictionary, but the latter just as frequently contains words that are not included in al-Mawrid. I’d recommend getting both actually. They are both incredibly useful Arabic dictionaries.
Arabic-English Thematic Lexicon
Written by Daniel Newman, this Arabic dictionary is different from the other dictionaries: instead of alphabetically listing the words and translations, the vocabulary is arranged according to themes such as “animals”, “food and drink”, “politics” and “arts and entertainment”. Great if you need to prepare a specific area for work or university study. Highly recommended.
Online Arabic Dictionaries
The best online English-Arabic-English dictionary by far is the Sakhr Multilingual Dictionary. It’s extremely comprehensive and provides a lot of words to choose from. Unfortunately it doesn’t give examples of usage. Neither does it provide transliteration of the Arabic words. It does, however, have full vowel marks for the Arabic words.
Apart from English it also translates from/to Turkish, French and German. Sometimes there is no entry for a word in Arabic-English, but a match in one of the other languages. So if you know any of the other languages try those too.
An excellent dictionary resource that has a huge corpus of Arabic words and English meanings, Almaany is increasingly becoming a very useful tool for anyone working with the Arabic language. The website contains many technical terms used in finance or economics for instance that are not easily found in other dictionaries.
Bab.la is a good dictionary that has great potential, due to the large quanity of sample sentences. At the moment, there are still quite a few dodgy translations, but over time this should improve. Arabic-English and English-Arabic.
Google translate is not only useful for getting a general idea of texts written in unfamiliar languages, but it has a dictionary function too.
Head over to the dictionary and google will present you with a translation and related phrases and (sometimes) usage examples. Given the data mining nature of google this will become a very useful resource in the future when there will be more usage examples. Edit: Unfortunately, Google decided to stop their dictionary service; however, you can still use Google Translate (which – in general – is not very good for Arabic).
Make Frequent Use Of Your Arabic Dictionary
Whichever Arabic dictionary you prefer (or a combination), make sure that you get to know its structure so that you can look up unknown Arabic words fast. If you have the time, it’s a great idea to take a look at related words under the same root. This way maybe one of them will stick in your memory. And remember that nothing can replace a native Arabic speaker who explains the word to you with some examples – not even an Arabic dictionary.