Did You Know Your iPhone Has a Built-in Dictionary? Here’s How to Use It

Did You Know Your iPhone Has a Built-in Dictionary? Here’s How to Use It

Follow this guide to start using the dictionary and thesaurus built into your iPhone software.


Your iPhone is packed with neat features that are not turned on by default. An example of this is the iPhone’s built-in dictionary.

You have a selection of dictionaries embedded inside your iPhone that allow you to look words up with just a few taps. You can also use this feature without an internet connection. With this useful feature you won’t need your third-party dictionary and translation apps any longer. Here’s how to use it.

What Can You Do With the iPhone’s Built-In Dictionary?

Dictionaries allow you to look up the meaning of words that aren’t familiar to you. What sets your iPhone’s built-in dictionary apart is that you don’t have to open an app and manually type the word for the app to begin searching its definition.

Instead, all you need to do is highlight a word and use the Look Up feature to find its meaning. Moreover, while most third-party apps are limited to a single language, you can download several languages of dictionaries and thesauruses simultaneously to display several results in one search.

Related: Dictionary and Vocabulary Apps to Learn New Words

For the English language alone, you have four dictionaries and thesauruses to choose from. Translated dictionaries, like German–English and Spanish–English, are also available.

How to Enable the Dictionary on Your iPhone

Apple’s built-in dictionary feature works for devices running on iOS 11 and later. To enable the feature:

  1. Head to Settings > General > Dictionary.
  2. Tap one or more of the dictionaries you wish to download. Wait until it’s done downloading.
  3. You’ll know that it’s done downloading when a check sign appears on the left side of the dictionary.
  4. Once done, you should be able to use these dictionaries to help you look up meanings of words even when you’re offline.

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How to Use Your iPhone’s Built-In Dictionary

The feature works on any text that can be highlighted, like text in eBook readers, documents, notes, emails, recognized text in images, and even words you type on text fields:

  1. Double-tap or tap and hold to select and highlight a word.
  2. A contextual menu will appear. Tap Look Up.
  3. Dictionary results will appear. Depending on how many dictionaries you’ve downloaded, the results will show one or more definitions or translated definitions of the word you have selected.
  4. Tap on a definition to expand it.
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Note that you should only select a word. If you choose more than a word, you probably won’t find a dictionary definition for the phrase. Instead, your device will show Siri Suggested Websites, Wikipedia Search, News, or other resources that might be related to the highlighted phrase.

Related: Essential iPhone Keyboard Tips and Tricks

Note: You won’t see a Look Up option on word processors like Pages and Microsoft Word. Instead, you can access your dictionaries through the Define option.

Showing Define Option in Pages in iPhone

How to Remove a Dictionary

Too many suggested definitions can quickly get overwhelming and messy. You can reduce the suggested definitions shown in the Look Up results by removing a downloaded dictionary. To do this:

  1. Head to Settings > General > Dictionary.
  2. Your available dictionaries will have a blue tick mark.
  3. Simply tap the ones you want to remove.

Define Things Instantly

Apple’s built-in dictionary allows you to instantly define words that you aren’t familiar with, or translate them to a language you want to learn. The feature is seamlessly integrated into most of the iPhone’s apps, allowing you to define words right where you are—no app opening and switching necessary.

It’s an incredibly useful reference tool for your iPhone—you just need to enable it in the settings first.

The 12 Best Reference Apps to Look Up Anything While On the Go

Keep these reference apps, including dictionaries, thesauruses, encyclopedias, and translators, on your mobile device and you’ll be ready for anything.

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