Word up! Using the Kindle’s dictionary

I think I have a pretty extensive vocabulary.  When I was a kid, I read the dictionary cover to cover (not that I retained all of it).  I loved Mrs. Byrne’s Dictionary of Unusual, Obsure, and Preposterous Words (which has apparently evolved into this…and isn’t available for the Kindle).

So, in my egotism, I thought the dictionary function of the Kindle just wasn’t going to be that useful for me. 

It turned out that I was wrong, and I do use it from time to time…and it’s very satisfying when it does know a word I don’t.  I’ll admit it: every once in awhile, I can’t remember which 18th century carriage is which.  😉

I even started a thread in the Amazon Kindle forum called Words my Kindle taught me.

Here’s a quick sampling of words (contributed both by me and by others) from that thread: verst, chiaroscuro, enthalpy, jezail, tufa, and smegma.

Don’t know what they all mean?  If you are reading this on a Kindle (besides the Kindle 1…it works a bit differently), use your 5-way to get in front of the word.  The definition will appear at the bottom of the screen. 

If the writing is too small for you (cough, ahem, not saying anything personally), you can hit the enter key on the Kindle.  It looks like a downward arrow that smashed into the ground, broke at a ninety-degree angle, and is pointing to your left.  🙂EnterThat will open the word in the dictionary itself.  Once you are there, it is just like you are in any other book.  You can use the Aa key to increase the text size.  You can even bookmark the page (Alt+B) or make a note (Menu-Add a Note or Highlight-start typing).   After you look at the word and definition, hit the Back button to go back to where you were in the book.

Making a list and checking it twice

The notes and bookmarks are the answer to a question I’ve been asked before.   Some people like to revisit the words they’ve learned, as a way to reinforce the knowledge later.  Others simply like to collect them like trophies: labeling where and when the capture was made.

When you go back to the dictionary, you can do Menu-My Notes & Marks to see the list.

Which dictionary?

The Kindle comes with The New Oxford American Dictionary .   I think that’s the right edition…although oddly, it’s not for sale to US customers.  Of course, you don’t need to buy one…it came with the Kindle.  🙂

What makes the dictionary different from any other book?  It has that special lookup feature, where you just have to get in front of the word.

The Kindle store has a section for Default Dictionaries.  This includes:

After you buy the dictionary and download it to your Kindle, it’s easy to switch.

Home-Menu-Settings-Change Primary Dictionary

You’ll see a list, and you can pick the one you want to use. 

This option may not be available if you only have one possible dictionary.

In the future, I’m sure there will be more options.  The Klingon Dictionary is available for the Kindle, but not as a default.  🙂

Do you have more Kindle dictionary questions or tips?  Let me know!

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.


30 Responses to “Word up! Using the Kindle’s dictionary”

  1. Al Says:

    Bufo, is the Spanish-English dictionary a good source for just looking up Spanish words to find out what they mean? I mean without making it the default dictionary.

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Al, I haven’t used this specific dictionary, so I can’t really give you an informed answer on that. It certainly could be used that way. The digital list price is only $7.95, and it says 40,000 entries. My intuition here is that it would be fine for a casual Spanish reader, but wouldn’t satisfy a Spanish major in college. I’m just guessing, though. 🙂

  2. Dictinary Download Says:

    Its always gud to have an extensive vocab..it helps a lot 😉

  3. Linda Mackin Says:

    Ewww! Smegma! Having horses, I would not need to look that one up. What book did you find it used in?

  4. Vitor Says:

    Hi bufocalvin,

    Do you know some Spanish-Spanish dictionary that works the same way as the “The New Oxford American Dictionary”?

    thanks in advance!

  5. Lucien Says:

    I just installed the kindle application to my new note book. How do I install install the dictionary with lookup function to my PC? If that is possible.

    Cape Town

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lucien!

      Cool to hear from Cape Town. 🙂 That feature is not yet available for the Kindle for PC, but is on Amazon’s list of possible future features.

  6. Melissa Says:

    Does the dictionary have a pronunciation function like some dictionary apps do? I’m interested because I wonder if it will help my son be able to read on his on without me always having to be there. He struggles with reading comprehension and it might give him a little freedom from his hovering mom. And maybe interest because it’s a gadget.

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Melissa!

      The default dictionary used by the Kinde 3, the New Oxford American, does not have a pronunciation function (even though that’s fun to say). 😉 Unfortunately, it doesn’t allow text-to-speech. The same is true of the other dictionary that comes with the device.

      I checked a few of the other dictionaries you can purchase to use for a “look-up” dictionary, and they also had the text-to-speech access blocked.

      However, the text-to-speech works on many books, and that can be helpful for those with reading comprehension issues. It does certainly mispronounce some things, but the version used (Vocalizer) on the K3 is better than the version used (RealSpeak) on the K2s and KDXs.

      I hadn’t noticed that the dictionaries had the text-to-speech access blocked…I appreciate you asking the question. I’ll alert other people.

  7. gilmar Says:


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  8. smileangel85 Says:

    I don’t know why I can’t download dictionary. After downloading, it is shown that “Error opening dictionary”. I have tried many times but it’s no use. What do I have to do? Thanks in advance.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, smileangel85!

      Tell me a bit more about what you are trying to do.

      What kind of Kindle (or app)?

      Is it the dictionary that came with the Kindle, or one you purchased separately?

      How are you trying to open the dictionary?

      Sorry to ask the questions, but it will help me answer your inquiry.

      • Shachar Says:

        I have same issue. It’s iphone latest kindle app. it’s the default one coming with the app. The download progress bar gets full, and then the error “error opening dictionary”.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Shachar!

        I appreciate you clarifying that.

        I’d suggest you check with Kindle Support on this. The dictionary works differently from other books…you can’t just go to the archives and download it.


        You’ll see a

        Contact Us

        button on your right. I’d call them or have them call you.

        If they give you a solution (or tell you there isn’t one), I’d appreciate you letting me know.

      • smileangel85angel85 Says:

        I have solved it by chatting online with amazon support and it really helps. I think they deleted my original data and when I redownloaded it, it works perfectly

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, smileangel85angel85!

        Great! I appreciate you sharing that…it may help other people when they go to


  9. bibi Says:

    I am using Kindle in my Ipad I. It’s the dictionary coming with kindle. Thanks very much for your advice

  10. Robin Says:

    Hi Bufo Calvin,
    You mention the “lookup” feature in the Kindle and I guess by that you mean that you can go to a word and get it defined in the built-in Kindle dictionary.
    But do you know if on the Kindle for PC it is possible to look up words independently of a Kindle book? i.e. I’m reading a paper book and find there a word I need to look up, can I use my Kindle-for-PC dictionary?

  11. Fashion Says:


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  13. Sacha A Viall Says:

    when i try to get the definitions by tapping on the word, it goes to screen seting or changes the page instead of giving definitions

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Sacha!

      Which Kindle do you have?

      Instead of tapping, try “long pressing”…hold your finger or stylus on the word for about a second.

  14. Sofia Fenichell Says:

    Thanks. This is a GREAT blog. Do you know if it’s possible to create a specialised dictionary for the kindle say for kids? Or to download a kids dictionary?

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Sofia!

      Thanks for the kind words!

      What model of Kindle/Fire do your kids use? On some, you can build up vocabulary cards…on others, you can download dictionaries.

  15. Sreedhar Says:

    I know how to find the meaning of a word when I encounter the word while reading in kindle. But how can I find the meaning of a word that isn’t there in the text? Can I open the dictionary and enter the word to get its meaning?

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Sreedhar!

      Generally, yes. You open the dictionary like you would open another book on your device, and then search it like you would search the book. What kind of device do you have…what model?

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