Monolingual dictionary corner

The Monokakido “Dictionaries” app

I can’t mention enough how much I have come to love this app over the past period of time. There are a lot of great things to mention about it, but the two things I consider the most important are the sync between my iPhone and my macbook for search history, as well as the cross-search between multiple dictionaries. More on those later, let’s start with a general overview.

What is the monokakido dictionaries app

The monokakido dictionaries app is (in my opionion) the greatest electronic dictionary in town. The functionality that it offers surpasses any of the other offerings, as it allows you to quickly look through a whole variety of dictionaries at the same time, jump between dictionaries while reading a definition, … It is the big game in town, though I think it’s sadly only available on iOs and macOs. We’ll be taking a quick glance at the functionality of the app, as well as how to get the most of it. A short list of the interesting functions it has :

  • Batch search (skewered or consolidated search), allows searching multiple dictionaries at once.
  • Pattern search, don’t know the spelling of the entire word? No problem! Thanks to wildcards!
  • Trace and jump. Select a word by tracing it while holding down the ⌘ key and it will jump to that words entry in the dictionary!
  • Bookmarks, set up bookmarks to any pages that grasp your interest, and sort them in the folder.
  • Search history, remember what you’ve searched before (and how often), this is shared between your iOs and macOs system for maximum effectiveness, more on this later ^^

What dictionaries are available?

We will only be mentioning the monolingual Japanese dictionaries here, as they also have quite the selection of English, JP-ENG and some other language dictionaries. Under Japanese Kokugo we find 6 dictionaries, namely :

  • 日本国語大辞典
  • 三省堂国語辞典
  • 明鏡国語辞典
  • 大辞林4
  • 大辞泉
  • 三省堂 新明解国語辞典

Under Japanese Kanji we find the following three dictionaries :

  • 漢検漢字辞典
  • 全訳漢辞海
  • 角川新字源 改訂新版

And while not technically dictionaries, there are two Japanese Thesauruses available that can be handy when you are looking into synonyms, antonyms and the like :

  • 日本語シソーラス 類語検索辞典
  • 角川類語新辞典

Then there are two Kogo dictionaries and two dictionaries with very specific terminology, but I don’t think they are worth the price for the average language learner. If your interests do lie in that direction, feel free to buy them though!

General set-up

The first thing I’d personally recommend when starting to use the Dictionaries app is to tweak a few very useful settings for the entire app, namely :

General settings :

This is how I personally like to have my set-up. I’d recommend you playing around with the font sizes and contrast until you figure something out that works best for you. I do recommend enabling the search clipboard function, quick bookmark and to make sure to Sync your Bookmarks and History via iCloud if you also have an iPad or iPhone (but more on why this is useful later on)

Besides the general settings, once you have multiple dictionaries (which I would highly recommend for several reasons, first of which is that not all words are in every dictionary, second of all it’s always a good idea to compare dictionary entries to get a fuller idea of the word as well as more potential example sentences and the like). There are two other things you want to set-up, you can find these on the left side of the options, namely “Edit category order” and “edit search order”.

When you click category order you will see something like this :

These are the categories in which you will be looking for results. You can order them however you like (and depending on the dictionaries you own you might see other categories than me). But this is how I personally prefer to set them up. I mostly look up meanings of words, which is why I have set Japanese as the main category. Sometimes I’ll want a deeper look at the Kanji, or need to hear the pronunciation (Accent for me is only the NHK accent dictionary), and as a fall back if I can’t make heads nor tails from the definition I can always look it up in an Eng – Jpn dictionary.

When you click “edit search order” you’ll get a popup similar to this one :

Here you can re-arrange the order in which results will popup within the categories. You simply arrange the order of dictionaries you prefer to consult the most, or which definitions you find to be the most useful in general. You can still consult them all no matter how you arrange these though, so you don’t need to worry too much about the matter. I haven’t changed this one any more ever since I set it up the first time, there would be a few changes that I’d make if I were to change things. (Mostly switching the seventh and eight edition of the 三省堂国語辞典 as the eight edition has slightly better definitions in my opinion).

Basics of searching

Monokakido uses 串刺し検索 or skewered search, which enables querying of multiple corpora by certain categories, such as register type and period. Also known as cross search. While you can search in a specific dictionary by opening it from the “collection page”, like this :


Note : The main search page when opening the “MEIKYO” dictionary.

The best way to unlock the full power of the Monokakido Dictionaries app is by performing a search through all the dictionaries you own. You can simply do this by typing something in the main search page of the app, no need to open a dictionary. The resulting search will look like this :

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We’ll be looking a bit closer at the options this search provides. (It’s also important to remember that the order of the dictionaries listed on the left is the result of the “edit search order” that we talked about before. There are several powerful little tools in this search box that might not be all that obvious at first glance. Let’s zoom in :

A first important thing to notice is the red dots in the middle on the right. This is a quick way to jump between dictionaries, as you can see that there are 45 headwords matching this search result in the Meikyou dictionary, and even 153 results in Daijisen. So, that would be a lot of scrolling if you didn’t get to hop around :stuck_out_tongue:

The second important thing is when we go a bit higher are the categories. As you can see I’m currently in the “Japanese” category, meaning I’m searching through the Japanese dictionaries. I can switch my search criteria to the “Kanji”, “Accent” or “Eng – Jpn” categories depending on my search type. They will provide different entries by searching through another set of dictionaries.

The second powerful option is above that. When I’m searching through my Japanese dictionaries, I can choose out of five options :

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Namely “word”, “idiom”, “example”, “kanji” and “group. Depending on which of these categories I choose I will see different results from those dictionaries. For example the first screen showed all searches through the Japanese dictionaries for “words”. However if I switch over to the “idiom” category, these are the results I get :

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Yet other results are gained by switching to other categories. Depending on the dictionary a term you are looking for might not be included under the headwords, but it might show up in one of the other categories, so it can pay of to switch these up.

The next handy feature is where you see “Start” on the upper-left hand side. If you click on this you’ll get a selection of three options :

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Changing these will indicate the search to either look for the input at the beginning or end of the headwords, or only exact matches. As you can see from the following image, Match will seriously cut down on your results, but will generally be more informative. I do suggest, especially when learning Kanji, to look through the list of words for ideas how they are used in compound words though, it can tell you a lot of useful information ^^

Result with “Match” selected :

As you can see, the results have been cut down by a lot :smile_cat:

The next useful feature is the one you get when you press the little asterisk on the left hand side of the search bar. This is the first one that might not be entirely self explanatory. It’s the “wildcard” option, (though officially pattern search option) but as you can see by pressing it, there are actually 5 options that become available :

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*: Zero or more arbitrary characters between two characters ->「あ*ま」finds「あま」,「あいま」,「あめだま」etc.
?: replace with any character, for each ? All possible words with one arbitrary character in that place will be shown. → 「あ?ま」finds「あいま」,「あたま」etc
@: replace with any kana → 「愛@@」finds「愛する」,「愛しい」,「愛でる」etc
#: replace with any kanji → 「一#一#」finds「一期一会」,「一長一短」etc
(…): Search for any word that has a character from the group → (あい)たま finds あたま and いたま.

The last useful feature on the main page is the search history (we’ll go over this in a bit more detail later on, because it has quite an awesome use-case!), which will display your last searches. So if you looked something up a bit ago and wanted to remind yourself? Quite nifty! It’s the clock on the right of the search bar :

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The power of your search history

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If you click this little icon here you get a very powerful tool at your finger tips, that is your search history. I personally clear mine at the end of a day, but there are several use-cases that we will discuss where keeping your search history for longer periods of time is incredibly useful (this is mostly the case for all of you doing study with Anki!)

When you look through your search history you can choose to show a “frequency” list. If you have to look up the same word multiple times when encountering it in the wild, this is where you’ll know that. (Don’t mind my basic entries due to writing tutorials today :stuck_out_tongue: )

The useful thing here is that you can figure out words you encounter and should learn in a matter of seconds, and you have them sorted in order of relative importance all for you. I personally just use it as a list to brush up on terms at the end of a reading session by looking at the same item across my dictionaries, but if you are an SRS-ing fiend, you can use these perfectly well to know what cards you need to create next.

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Making the Monolingual leap

It is my conviction that one of the most powerful tools in your learning arsenal is eventually making the monolingual transition. However, am I a master of Japanese that can read anything without any trouble and thus the correct person to ask? No. But I’ve noticed a marked improvement in my own reading that coincided with making the step to going fully monolingual (WaniKani excluded :stuck_out_tongue: ). So, while I may not be the best person to ask, I’ll be doing a short write up based on what I’ve read concerning making the monolingual transition. Please look at the entirety of this article with a healthy amount of doubt, and do make up your own mind! :smile_cat:

Going fully monolingual isn’t a necessity to studying Japanese, and may even increase your discomfort with the language for months on end, but the potential rewards as you have to learn to comprehend new words, context and the like in Japanese is very immense. It helps you to gain a deeper grasp of the language, and will probably be helpful in shortening the time to fluency as you are potentially increasing the amount of exposure to the language.

Another (claimed) benefit is that it helps you get out of the mindset of translating from Japanese to another language in your head, and truly start thinking in Japanese.

First caveat

The first caveat to going monolingual is looking at time spent reading. If you find that using a monolingual dictionary causes you to read less than you do while using a bilingual dictionary due to it being more draining, by all means, continue using a bilingual one. There are still several potential steps you can take to try and incorporate more time with a monolingual dictionary, but as stated previously it’s not a hard requirement on your path to fluency.

The first potential step you can make is doing the first look-up in a monolingual dictionary, but if you don’t immediately get the meaning (though I believe the struggle in figuring it out is beneficial!) you can look it up in a bilingual dictionary.

The other potential avenue is trying and using a monolingual exclusively until you reach a point of mental fatigue where you can’t be bothered anymore and then switching to a bilingual one. This will somewhat increase your time spent fully in Japanese, though your reading speed (at least in the beginning) will probably drop by quite a lot.

How long will the transition take?

I can’t claim to be an expert on this matter. I slowly got my feet wet in the beginning, only taking a dip here or there, getting my toes wet with some monolingual definitions and the like. With only the last few months going pretty hard on monolingual dictionaries. It’s only been a while since I made the full monolingual leap I’m describing here myself, so please remember to keep all this advice with a grain of salt. It’s based on some stuff I’ve read on various blogs more than personal experience. In general the claim is that the transition to full monolingual look-ups will see a slowdown for several months, but later on it is claimed that you will actually gain reading speed which will make up for the time loss.

When to actually make the switch?

I feel like a certain familiarity with grammar and vocabulary are a necessity when it comes to making the monolingual leap. Sure, you can try and figure things out from the get-go, but stumbling on even the simplest of words and having to look up 10 words in a single definition, that each have their own definition in which you need to look up 10 more words just seems like a fool’s errand to me personally. I feel like the same sort of advice that is given when first diving into native material applies here. Make sure you have a foundation of at least the 1,000 most common words and a firm grasp on basic grammar (N5 and N4 would be preferable as a minimum), but this isn’t a hard set of rules. The most important thing is that you feel at least somewhat comfortable reading Japanese. If each sentence of every definition leaves you scratching your head, making the monolingual transition would be the ideal way of sending yourself of to the loony bin. However, waiting until you understand all definitions immediately on first read would be too long in my personal opinion. The uncertainty, ambiguity and need to figure it out by thinking about what they could mean is one of the most beneficial aspects of it all in my opinion.

But in general I’d advice : Only make the leap once you are only somewhat uncomfortable with making the leap.

How to make the switch

How to go about it? I’d advice picking up several monolingual dictionaries personally, as sometimes I won’t understand the explanation in one for a certain word, but then one of the other ones has an entry that makes perfect sense (or the word might just not be in the one you own, which is another problem entirely). And then, just look stuff up and see if it clicks! I do personally advocate for the monokakido dictionaries app that I mention quite a few times throughout this thread, and I suggest giving a quick read through the explanations of all the dictionaries in this post to make up your mind on which ones to get, but if you don’t want to bother with all that, here are the ones available in the monokakido app in the order that I’d personally recommend them :

  • 明鏡国語辞典 第三版
  • 三省堂国語辞典 第八版
  • 三省堂 新明解国語辞典 第八版
  • 大辞林4
  • 日本国語大辞典
  • 大辞泉

When should you not use a monolingual dictionary

  1. You need a specific Japanese word when writing a text

While I’d say 90+% of your language learning needs can be covered by going monolingual, this isn’t always the case when compiling your own texts. Whether it’s just a short tweet or post on this forum, or an in-depth article of some sort, trying to find the exact word you want to use by trying and explaining it in Japanese terms and hoping Google has got your back is a dreadful way to go about it. Simply look the word up in an J-E-J or E-J dictionary and go on your merry way! (Though using a thesaurus is always a good option if you do want to stay in a monolingual environment!)

  1. It’s a highly specific term that you’d barely understand in your native language

Sometimes you will come across a word that has a very specific meaning / nuance. Sometimes you can roughly guesstimate this word when looking it up in the dictionary, but there will be times when even reading up on all the entries, looking up all the words in those entries, and diving even deeper still leaves you confused at the end of it all. This can especially be the case when looking at some more technical texts, I myself have encountered it on many occasions when venturing to the more technical pages on the Japanese Wikipedia for example. When reading certain types of texts I consider it fine to “cheat” and look up the English meaning just because the mental load of understanding the text itself already takes up all brainpower. You’ll generally find that it becomes easier eventually, and once it does, it’s a good rule to switch out the bilingual for monolingual again though!

Either way, the best way in my eyes is to take the leap, you can always go back if you find it’s not your cup of tea! If you encounter any problems or have any further questions, feel free to mention them here as one of the main reasons for this threads existence is to help others make the transition :smile:

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:raised_hands: Life saver! I downloaded the app back in April when there was the big sale and have been enjoying it. However my poor eyes struggled with the small font. Thank you for including this suggestion.

I wasn’t sure what you meant by “trace.” At first I thought I could draw kanji using my trackpad as if there was stroke recognition. But now I realize you mean I can highlight a word in the app while holding down ⌘ and it’ll jump to that word’s entry.

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This is my favorite app as well.

On IOS it does this via highlighting:

Although it s a bit finicky at first since it will otherwise bring up the system copy shortcuts.

I also like that you can tap on the symbols/abbreviations to get to the explanation page for them. Although it did take me some time to figure them all out, especially the following:

Brilliant overview though. Its great being able to do recursive dives through the dictionary when you’re first starting J-J.

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Oh my! I did not know about this! That’s brilliant, thanks for pointing it out ^^

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角川新国語辞典 単行本

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First edition : 1981
Latest edition : 1981
Publisher :
Number of words: 75000 words
Number of pages : 1467 pages
ISBN-13 : 978-4040116006

While this dictionary hasn’t seen a new version since it first got published in 1981 it has been somewhat updated throughout every reprint, with well over a hundred “editions” it has gone through over the years. It is one of only a few of the truly long - selling dictionaries around.

The upside of the dictionary is that notes on historical kana usage are included, but while this is useful for people writing haiku and tanka poetry, for Japanese language learners this is a dictionary that doesn’t hold a lot of use.

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新解国語辞典

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First edition:1982
Last edition:1998 (second edition)
Publisher:小学館
Number of words:49000 words
Number of pages : 1031 pages
ISBN-13 : 978-4095016023

While this isn’t a dictionary I would recommend, it has a few things setting itself somewhat apart from the rest. It touts itself on the huge amount of information presented regarding honorifics, so if that is something you are interested in this could very well be the dictionary for you. (Though there are other dictionaries dealing with this subject coming in later posts). Even for a small dictionary the headword count is on the lower end of the spectrum. They have some articles on historical events (the lines between Japanese dictionaries and encyclopaedia can be considered blurry at best :stuck_out_tongue: ), but that’s not a feature I would personally select a dictionary for.

If you have bad eyesight but still want to use paper dictionaries instead of a digital one, this might be for you as they have a bigger (7 point) font, compared to other dictionaries.

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Android recommendations? (and price?)

For me, it’s a matter of convenience; as well as how fast I can understand the terms. I still have Kotobank app, but it’s not as convenience as Aedict. De-conjugation aside, I still expect convenience features, history and Kanji browsing, at least.

Aedict dictionary selection

Furthermore, even after reading the definitions and I still don’t understand, it can happen. (So, google, which can still sometimes fail.) Not like dictionary is everything, but better dictionaries can help lots.

Quality of definitions has more differences in Kanji counterpart. [1]


    • I think KANJIDIC’s proofreading is paused, unless you e-mail the maintainer.
    • Wiktionary mixes Kanji and vocabularies, and eventually references monolingual JJ sources. It also shows results for non-Japanese.
    ↩︎
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I got the Meikyo from I think your April sale recommendation post because you mentioned it’s a dictionary that has furigana. I would see some furigana occasionally but it wasn’t until I was poking around the app today that I found an actual toggle to turn it on for real :sweat_smile:

After you search a word, click the three-lines menu icon to show additional options. There a toggle for “Show Full Ruby” which will enable furigana.

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Probably someone else’s recommendation, but the Meikyo is a great rec :smile_cat: The full ruby option is a great option indeed! I’ll look into doing a write-up of the Meikyo today, as it’s a brilliant little dictionary with some peculiarities ^^

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A quick look at the symbols used in the Meikyo dictionary

Symbols and dictionary shorthand can often be quite confusing. It doesn’t help that there isn’t one standard being used across all dictionaries. I might in a future endeavor type out all symbols and shorthand for every dictionary discussed in this topic, but as it’s quite a big job I’ve decided on just doing this for the Meikyo dictionary first. I must admit that there are quite a few I never really pay attention to (such as those concerning old conjugation patterns for example), so if there are any corrections, addendums, … anyone would like to make, please feel free to share!

Symbol Meaning
Kanji outside of the Jōyō - Kanji
Phonetic reading outside of the Jōyō - Kanji
《 》 Words in the Jōyō - Kanji
〈 〉 Reading of a Kanji compound
[ ] Indicates part-of-speech
( ) Indicates constituents of compound word
Noun
Pronoun
Intransitive verb
Transitive verb
Verb
補動 Auxiliary Verb
Godan conjugation
Yodan conjugation (classical Japanese)
上一 Conjugation (inflection, declension) of ichidan verbs ending in "iru"​
上二 Conjugation (inflection, declension) of nidan verbs (resulting in a stem of either “i” or “u” for every conjugation) (literary language)​
下一 Conjugation (inflection, declension) of ichidan verbs ending in "eru"​
下二 Conjugation (inflection, declension) of nidan verbs (resulting in a stem of either “e” or “u” for every conjugation)​ (literary language)
カ変 Irregular conjugation of the verb "kuru"​
サ変 Irregular conjugation of s-stem verbs; conjugation of the verb "suru"​
ナ変 Irregular conjugation of verbs ending in “nu” (in written Japanese)​
ラ変 Irregular conjugation of a limited number of verbs ending in “ru” (in written Japanese)​
特活 Special conjugation
Adjective
補形 Auxiliary adjective
Classical form of i-adjective inflection (attributive form ends in “ki” and predicative in “shi”)
シク Classical form of i-adjective inflection (attributive form ends in “shiki” and predicative in “shi”)
形動 Adjectival noun
トタル トタルconjugation
ナリ Classical form of na-adjective inflection formed by contraction of the particle “ni” with the classical verb “ari” (“aru”)
連体 Pre-noun adjectival; Adnominal adjective
Adverb
Ending with “to”
Ending with “ni”
Conjunction
Interjection
助動 Bound auxiliary
五型 Godan-style conjugation
四型 Yodan-style conjugation
下一型 Conjugation (inflection, declension) of ichidan verbs ending in “eru”
下二型 Classical Japanese Conjugation on which I didn’t find a lot at first glance
ナ変型 Classical Japanese Conjugation on which I didn’t find a lot at first glance
ラ変型 Classical Japanese Conjugation on which I didn’t find a lot at first glance
形型 I-adjective style conjugation
形動型 Adjectival noun style conjugation
特活型 Special conjugation
格助 Case marking particle
接助 Conjunction particle
副助 Adverbial particle
終助 Sentence-ending particle
接尾 Prefix
Constituents of compound word
連語 Compound word; phrase; collocation
image56x176 Major category
❶❷❸ Subcategory
image62x120 Classification explanation in the commentary
AB Separating words with many meanings or words with long explanations by their rough meanings
〔古風〕 Archaic word
〔俗〕 Colloquial; Slang; Vulgar word
〔新〕 New word (or meaning)
image66x56 If there is only one semantic classification, a commentary on the item. Also, commentary on a certain meaning of items with multiple semantic classifications
image60x64 Commentary on the entire item (or multiple meanings) for items with multiple semantic classifications
書き方 How to write
書き分け Distinguishing words by their writing
使い方 How to use
語源 Etymology
注意 Caution
読み分け Distinguishing words by their reading
Manner of counting
Sentence form
可能 Potential verb (as in describing potentiality)
派生 Derived forms with 「げ」 「さ」 「み」 「がる」
image70x72 Transformation into a noun
image66x68 Transformation into a verb
Old Kanji form as shown in the Jōyō - Kanji
異形 Variant verbs
image98x316 Dignity column
:left_right_arrow: synonym
:arrow_down: “See also”
⦿ Subheading
早引き Quick lookup for words with many homophones
逆引き Headings that allow for reverse indexing from the back or middle of a word
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Definitely bookmarking this for my own reference, thank you!

I’d love to read your explanation about the way definitions are written in dictionaries. Something I struggled with when I first started with J-J dictionaries was the usage and meanings or implications of ~ある事、~ある物事、~様、~こと、「また、そのさま」、etc. It’s can be a very different style of writing compared to what you read everywhere else.

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I’ll add it to my writing list, but I’m going to need some time to think about how to properly tackle that topic. Thanks for the suggestion!

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Oh, wow, that’s amazing. I wish I had this months ago when I was just starting to get into J-J. Bravo. :clap:

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Possibly of interest: Kokugo Dictionaries as Tools for Learners: Problems and Potential, an article by Tom Gally, who worked for a period as an editor of JE and EJ dictionaries. Nothing earth-shaking, but a good summary of what to expect, the advantages, and a few awkwardnesses that stem from these dictionaries being targeted at native speakers rather than learners.

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Each dictionary does typically define its symbology in an appendix somewhere, but of course if you’re just starting out it’s not always easy to find it or comprehend it once you do find it…

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Aye, for sure. That’s what I posted earlier.

Haha, yup. 名 for 名詞 is super simple, but just learning to read something 上一・下一 is tough unless you already know, let alone being able to parse the “explanation” of 上一段活用・下一段活用.

Skimmed it a bit and it’s a good read. I’ll save it to digest later. :+1:

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e.g. Daijisen has the help page online. Mostly the symbols/abbreviations are in the 記号・約物一覧 subsection, but some (notably the bracketing and numbering systems) are described as part of the other help page articles. Overall though I think the differences from Meikyo’s system are minor.

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Neat little paper ^^ Thanks for sharing!

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Another potentially confusing thing in dictionary entries if you’re not expecting it: historical kana spellings. These are usually given in katakana, sometimes in half-width katakana. For example Daijisen’s entry for 学校 has the heading:

がっ‐こう〔ガクカウ〕【学校】

Here ガクカウ is the historical kana spelling. Assuming you’re not trying to read or write(!) a pre-WW2 text you can simply ignore it.

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