No matter your command of the English language, we all have trouble defining, pronouncing, or even remembering certain words, which makes writing tough. Here are some of the best tools to help you out…
We talked about online language tools for nerds a couple years ago, and today we’re revisiting it with newer and better options. This list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s some of our favorite tools we’ve found—and even make use of on a daily basis—to help in our writing.
By far the easiest way to define a word quickly is to look it up in Google, using the
defineoperator. For example, searching for
define:improbable gives you definitions from around the web for the word “improbable”. In fact, Google doesn’t really care anymore whether or not you use the colon after define—if it’s easier for you, just type
If you want something a little more detailed, you can hit up Google Dictionary and search for your word there. You’ll get the word’s pronunciation (in phonetic text and audio), synonyms, definitions from different online sources, and even usage examples from articles around the net. You can even add Google Dictionary to your browser’s search engine so you can search it with a quick keyword.
If you’re looking up several words at a time, previously mentioned Ninjawords is a pretty awesome tool, as it doesn’t refresh after each new word lookup, it just adds it to an ever-growing list. If you have the opposite problem and you need to know the name of something you can describe, previously mentioned Visual Dictionary is a great tool from Merriam-Webster that lets you filter out an object by category and picture until it can name the specific item you’re thinking of. If you’re reading a web page and want to define a word fast,previously mentioned Lingro can do it with just a quick bookmarklet.
Lastly, if you need the definition for something that’s a bit newer or more idiomatic, tools likepreviously mentioned Open Dictionary, previously mentioned IdiomDictionary, and the ever-popular Urban Dictionary are all useful. If you can’t seem to figure out what a specific acronym is (such as the ever popular internet acronyms IIRC, TL;DR, and others), Acronym Finder has a hefty database as well.
If you’re a Firefox or Chrome user, you can’t go wrong with the incredibly powerful After the Deadline extension for fixing your writing. Not only does it check regular spelling and grammar errors, but you can even customize it to correct seriously biased language, double negatives, passive voice, and other common errors. When one shows up in your writing, After the Deadline will suggest possible replacements and link to an explanation of why you should change it.
If you find there are a few words you misspell often, we’ve featured a few tools that automatically correct those words as you type. Text expander PhraseExpress comes with an English language pack that will correct common misspellings and other issues, whileUniversal AutoCorrect uses AutoHotkey to fix words on Wikipedia’s commonly misspelled list. Of course, most built-in autocomplete software can help you in a pinch, as well. Be sure to check out our previously mentioned lists of common grammar mistakes and misheard expressions to avoid.
Lastly, a neat crowdsourcing grammar tool called Phras.in deserves mention. If you’re having trouble deciding between two similar phrases, Phras.in will let you compare which one is more common, and even contextualize them for you using recent web pages. It isn’t necessarily perfect, but it can be a good determinant of what is more commonly accepted as correct in a given situation.