The App Store’s virtual shelves carry dozens of dictionary apps but did you know that as of iOS 5 Apple’s offered a feature designed to make it easy for iPhone, iPod

touch and iPad owners to look up word definitions in a bunch of foreign languages?

Built-in dictionaries are available system-wide and work great as a general quick-reference tool so consider using them whenever possible.

Up until iOS 8, bringing up word definitions was as easy as selecting a piece of text and choosing the Define option. iOS 8, however, requires you to manually download dictionaries before you can define words on an iOS device.

In this tutorial, we will show you how to download and manage specific language dictionaries, use the Define feature and remove dictionaries you might no longer need in order to conserve storage space.

Note that the dictionary is a feature of the software keyboard only.

Just to be clear, the dictionary used for auto-correction is different from the dictionary used for word definitions. Also, changing the language of the keyboard automatically changes the language of the dictionary used for auto-correction and predictive text whereas word definition are not enabled automatically unless you manual download the dictionary file.

If a dictionary file isn’t available locally to your iOS device and you try to define a word, you will be greeted with a “No definition found” message as shown below.

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This is especially the case after updating to iOS 8.

If you experience issues when defining words on iOS, follow these steps to download dictionaries to an iPhone, iPod touch or iPad.

How to download dictionaries to iPhone, iPod touch and iPad

Step 1: Open Safari on your iPhone, iPod touch or iPad, or any app that allows you to select and define words such as iBooks, for example.

Step 2: Navigate to any website in Safari.

Step 3: Tap and hold any word in Safari to select it.

Step 4: Choose Define in the bubble menu that pops up. A new screen will appear.

Step 5: Now choose Manage.

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Step 6: A new screen shows, listing all of the available dictionaries.

Now find one or more appropriate dictionaries you would like to use and tap the cloud icon to the right of the dictionary in order to download it to your device.

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As shown below, the circular progress bar indicates the download progress.

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As soon as the dictionaries have been downloaded to your device, you can start looking up word definitions in languages for which iOS has dictionary files available locally on the device

How to remove dictionaries from iPhone, iPod touch and iPad

iOS’s dictionaries are not exactly storage hogs, which doesn’t mean you cannot save some storage space on your iOS device by removing dictionaries hat are no longer needed.

Step 1: Open Safari on your iPhone, iPod touch or iPad and navigate to any website.

Step 2: Tap and hold any word in Safari to select it.

Step 3: Choose Define in the bubble menu that pops up.

Step 4: A new screen listing your dictionaries will appear. Choose Manage.

Step 5: Hit the x symbol next to the dictionary you wish to remove. The icon should turn into the cloud symbol if the dictionary file got successfully removed.

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How to look up word definitions on iPhone, iPod touch and iPad

As mentioned, your iOS device must have at least one dictionary file available locally before you can define words. People who have updated to iOS 8 are going to need to download one or more dictionary files manually, by following the steps outlined in the previous section.

Step 1: Launch Safari or iBooks or any app that allows you to select blocks of text. We’re going to launch Safari for the purposes of this tutorial.

Step 2: Tap and hold any word in Safari to select the word like you would to cut or copy.

Step 3: Now tap Define in the bubble menu.

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Bringing up a definition page for a word presents all kinds of information. In addition to the meaning of the word, you should also see examples of how to use it in a sentence and its origin, if possible.

If you downloaded more than one dictionary, multiple word definitions from other sources and in other languages will be presented here. If the chosen word has not been defined in the dictionary, or the dictionary file is not downloaded, hitting Define will yield no results.

Tip: To learn the pronunciation of foreign languages, you may want to enable Siri’s speak selection feature that reads the selected text out loud. Just open Settings on your device, navigate to General > Accessibility > Speech and flip the switch next to the Speak Selection feature to the ON position.

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A Speak button should now appear when you select text in apps.

With this feature, you can also get your iPhone, iPod touch or iPad to read whole iBooks to you, for example. And should you select the Highlight Content option, iOS will highlight words as they are spoken.

Further voice customizations are available by tapping on Voices.

Supported dictionary languages

The iPhone, iPod touch and iPad devices running iOS 8 can download dictionaries available in the following languages:

  • English
  • Chinese (Simplified)
  • French
  • German
  • Italian
  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Spanish
  • Dutch
  • Portuguese (Brazil)
  • Russian
  • Thai
  • Turkish

Future iOS releases might include dictionaries for additional languages.

Other ways to define words on iOS

In addition to the built-in Define feature, there are other ways of defining words on iOS that don’t require manual dictionary downloads, including the following:

Use Google Search

If your device has an Internet connection, you can either use Google’s native application for the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad, or simply visit in Safari, and type “define” followed by a word you wish to look up the definition for.

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Sometimes you can just type a word and have Google automatically define it for you. In the above example, I typed “assume” and Google immediately brought up the definition.

Use dedicated apps

The App Store is packed to the gills with various applications for research and reference, including dedicated dictionary apps. We highlighted some of the best dictionary apps for the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad, but you can always check for new ones by firing up the App Store on your device to search for “dictionary”.

best dictionary apps

Benefits of using iOS’s built-in dictionaries

While third-party dictionary apps get the job done, their word definitions are rarely available in other apps via Share sheet actions. It may be therefore far more easier to use iOS’s built-in Define feature to look up word definitions.

Unlike most dictionary apps, iOS’s dictionaries are available system-wide in almost any application that supports text selections, and can be accessed quickly with a single tap.

In addition, once iOS dictionaries are stored locally on an iOS device you can define words in apps without an Internet connection, unlike the Google Search method.

A major downside to using iOS dictionaries is the need to manually download the dictionary. But then again, a third-party dictionary app must be downloaded, too.

Devices with iOS 8.1.3 and later offer configuration profile options for system administrators can to restrict access to spelling and definition features on supervised devices. Other features that can be restricted via configuration profiles include definition lookup for highlighted words, spell check and autocorrection while typing and Apple’s predictive keyboard.

See also:

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