Monolingual dictionary corner

Look at you digging up old comments :b
From conversations I’ve had with other people since, I very much know that my perspective on this is very different from some. What I’ve come to understand since is that, for people that aren’t yet fully used to monolingual dictionaries, it is hard to see where I’m coming from. On top of that, since it’s been such a long time for me and I got handholding in the start, I think I’m not at all qualified to judge how hard/easy monolingual dictionaries are for others.
Consider that I am someone that has been using almost exclusively monolingual dictionaries for close to two years, having read thousands of pages without using bilingual dictionaries, having studied over 5000 words with monolingual definitions.
I don’t mean to say this to brag or anything, maybe I would be far more advanced by now had I stuck with bilingual dictionaries. I just genuinely mean that when perspectives are so different, it’s hard to understand each other.
Sorry for the rambling :see_no_evil:

With that in mind, I think people tend to underestimate how much of a difference it makes if you are used to monolingual dictionaries. For most words I look up while reading, using a monolingual dictionary barely slows me down. At roughly an N2 level, I genuinely believe that what is slowing one down isn’t lack of Japanese abilities, but not being used to using monolingual dictionaries. I don’t think this fully goes away, even at N1 and beyond.
Personally I think getting used to them is worth the time it takes, and I think this might be what some people are actually disagreeing with. Either that they don’t think they will get significantly faster, or that they don’t believe the initial time investment is worth the gains.

Assuming one does indeed get quite a bit faster using them, and the benefits one gets from using them are worth the time it takes to get there, I very much stand by my old comment. That’s the perspective I am talking from.
Yes, glancing at the monolingual definition first, seeing if you know all the words, then seeing if you can figure it out, and if you can’t moving on to an English definition will slow you down a bit (even though I feel like it wouldn’t be that much), but I think it’s a good first step in getting used to them.

One might disagree with those assumptions, and maybe they are right, but then the discussion is an entirely different one :man_shrugging:


@GrumpyPanda Thank you for detailing how you use dictionaries. Visualising the path of other language learners is helpful and motivating.

I use monolingual dictionaries in other languages and they are so much better than bilingual dictionaries. Just need to make the leap in Japanese. . .


So I am not a beginner, not super advanced. I do kind of a hybrid of monolingual now since a lot of the more common words just come to me. I think when it comes to your base or foundational level words a monolingual dictionary is only gonna slow you down because the simpler the word, the more complex the explanation is. The same goes for the reverse which is why I think once you get to those N2/N1 vocab you’re better served going monolingual. I don’t do 100% one or the other because sometimes I am just forgetful and need that quick reminder. For newer more nuanced words/phrases nothing beats monolingual if you have the vocab to tackle it.


Okay, so I have been terrible at managing this thread, as life has been busy and Japanese has taken a bit of a back seat, but seeing as I have some free time next week, would there be anything specific I could write on, are there any dictionaries you all are interested in, or anything of that ilk? If so, feel free to comment and I’ll see what I can whip up.

If there aren’t any specific requests I’ll see if I had backed up my list of things I still wanted to write up, as I didn’t properly back up my old macbook, not expecting it to give the ghost after a few months of ownership :sweat_smile:

I’m very much of the same opninion as you on this matter ^^ Using monolingual dictionaries (heck, using dictionaries in any form) effectively is a skill in and on itself. Is it worth the added trouble of doing this relatively early in your journey vs waiting 'til you are quite advanced? As you said, we have our views on this, and they might not be correct, but I also believe it is definitely worth it (by a whole lot). Always enjoy reading your thoughts on the matter!

You make some very good points, and I have to say I agree on most everything, the only addendum I really wanted to make to this is to consider revisiting basic vocabulary once you reach a relatively comfortable level (I’m bad at judging whether this would be an N2 / N1 point though, as I never did any JLPT specific studying :sweat_smile: ), at least, to me in my situation I feel like I’ve managed to learn a whole lot by seeing how they attempt to explain simple concepts like right or left, a circle or bike, words, … (also why if I do comparisons or whatever you’ll see me default to 肉 a lot in my write-ups :stuck_out_tongue: )


That’s right! I agree with you there.

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First edition:1982
Last edition:2016 (fifth edition)
Number of words:71.000 words
Number of pages : 1685 pages
ISBN-13 : 978-4095010359

The one thing I found most interesting about this dictionary is that when reading online reviews the first thing that pops out is that it has earned a reputation as “the dictionary most chosen by Japanese language teachers”, which I would take as quite a good sign. Though, a dictionary that is good for native teachers isn’t automatically also a dictionary that is good for language learners of course.

The fifth edition of this dictionary is the first Japanese-language dictionary that makes full use of the Japanese corpus of the 国立国語研究所 (National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics or “NINJAL”). This allows for a deep explanation of ‘modern Japanese’ use with abundant examples.

The one feature that really sets this dictionary apart is the 「類語対比表」(Quasi-Synonym Comparison Table) which illustrates the different use cases of Quasi-Synonyms (Note : A Quasi-Synonym is a word that has a similar meaning to another, but can not be used interchangeably), similar things can be found in thesauruses, but it’s a very useful feature, one that greatly surpasses the dignity column of the Meikyo in my eyes.

Another useful feature is the 『現国例』 (modern Japanese example), it helps distinguish between the standard notation of a word and other forms of notation that have been used in the past, are still used in the present and have a “high degree of social custom” (such as fixed expressions and such ilk).

Note : This dictionary is seemingly also available on the DONGRI platform, though I haven’t purchased it myself on the grounds of it being a subscription service, though the app offers some functions that some of you might indeed appreciate, such as MS Word integration for example.




First edition:1985
Last edition:2000 (second edition)
Number of words:79.000 words
Number of pages : 1824 pages
ISBN-13 : 978-4107302144
Note : Out of print

While there are some merits to this dictionary, most specifically the examples given for words being from actual usage (mostly from literary sources from the end of the Edo period up to the 20th year of the Showa period 1867 – 1946), and it can be seen as a quite nifty index of literature in that respect, it’s uses as a dictionary, especially for language learners are quite a lot more minimal. One somewhat interesting thing for some people might be that any words linked in the 和英語林集成 are marked with a 〔ヘボン〕, meaning this word was certainly used during the Meiji period.

The biggest downside in my eyes though is that it hasn’t been revised for over two decades now, and is becoming more outdated by the day.




First edition:1988
Last edition:2018 (sixth edition)
Number of words:77.500 words
Number of pages : 1632 pages
ISBN-13 : 978-4385140636

The little brother to the 『三国』, this dictionary is aimed right at high school students, it is a specialized version with the sole intention of being used for school study. Though it is claimed to be useable “up to the general public”. The selection criteria of the words in this dictionary are made by inspecting the text books in use in high schools for both the Japanese language courses as well as textbooks of other subjects. This results in this dictionary picking up quite a few words that other small dictionaries, and even some medium-sized ones wouldn’t include. If you are intending to enroll in any studies in Japan itself, or if you are interested in studying a subject in Japanese this dictionary would definitely be a great addition to your arsenal.

Some other good things about this dictionary are that it includes the names of major people and works related to literature, it provides detailed comparisons of words with similar meanings and lends itself well as dictionary of expressions.



First edition:1993
Last edition:2012 (third edition)
Number of words:95.000 words
Number of pages : 2160 pages
ISBN-13 : 978-4084000187

The goal of this dictionary was to provide a broad scope overview of terms found in a wide array of fields. This means that anything from common, everyday words to names of major people, places, works, incidents, … as well as basic archaic words can be found among its entries. While the glossary is very concise, it transmits the most essential information quite well, and provides a great jumping off point to know where to look for more in-depth information.

Due to its (for a small-sized dictionary) large corpus, there are many words that you can probably only encounter in this dictionary. Furthermore, the editor’s areas of expertise makes this an apparent treasure trove for its entries on expressions, grammar entries and the like.


学研 現代新国語辞典 改訂

Regular edition :

Small Edition :


First edition:1994
Last edition:2017 (sixth edition)
Number of words:77.000 words
Number of pages : 1771 pages
ISBN-13 : 978-4053045799
Note : Small edition is based on 2012’s fifth edition

A nifty little dictionary that is based on the out of stock 『学研国語大辞典』(second and also last edition 1988). It also comes in a smaller edition for those that prefer a small form factor. The dictionary lends itself brilliantly if you want to learn to express yourself in more varied ways, and in many cases acts more like a specialized thesaurus than it does a standard dictionary. While it is quite brilliant in the inclusion and use of homonyms and synonyms, when looking at the selection of actual headwords included one can feel that on many other fronts thought this dictionary is quite lacking. A great specialized dictionary if that is something you are interested in, but if you are looking at a general purpose dictionary this probably isn’t the one for you.




First (and current) edition:1995
Number of words:52.000 words
Number of pages : 1504 pages
ISBN-13 : ‎ 978-4040132006

A dictionary with quite a small headword count, so the chance of pulling it up and not finding the word you are looking for is quite big. In my eyes the biggest downside of all on this dictionary is the fact that it hasn’t had a revision since its first edition back in 1995, this means that it is quite outdated and it is getting more so by the day. Furthermore, the things that set this dictionary apart back in the day, and that (to this day) have gotten it a dedicated fanbase have since been replicated and improved on in other dictionaries. Things such as columns on synonym usage, analysis of old terms back to ancient language, … Can be found in many other dictionaries that are better for the task, still, the one thing it has still going for it is that it has quite detailed entries on Japanese Language studies. Do they make this a worthwhile purchase for a language learner, though? In most cases I would argue it doesn’t, but exceptions do always exist.




First (and current) edition:2004
Number of words:63.000 words
Number of pages : 1879 pages
ISBN-13 : ‎ 978-4095011714

A dictionary that has gotten quite glowing reviews from several people I trust to know their stuff on the subject, this dictionary is based on the 現代国語例解辞典 mentioned earlier in this thread, but it has some distinct features that really set it apart as well as expanding on (and improving) on such aspects as the 「類語対比表」(Quasi-Synonym Comparison Table), it also greatly expounds on the 『現国例』of said dictionary. It has quite a few detailed analysis of the small (but oh so important) distinctions between various words, that you might not have considered, and will probably not even naturally pick up just from exposure.

The other distinctive feature about this dictionary is that it has evaluations of the positive or negative aspect of a word by marking it with either a smiling face or one with a raised-eye. This is a great and easy way to cement distinctions and not accidentally insulting someone ^^


Question in 2 parts as I find myself with two days of unplanned free time next week.

Question 1 : Is there any interest in me doing a write up of a few “elementary school” level monolingual dictionaries?

Question 2 : How have you all been finding the form factor of my short write-ups? Acceptable? Would you all prefer more pictures / more examples of entries? A different format (Longer write-ups? Comparisons? Keep it to bullet points? Video instead of text for example could also be an option, but I’d have to figure that out :sweat_smile: )? Any other aspects you’d prefer me to focus on instead of just the dictionaries?

Sorry to be a bother, and for anyone taking the time to answer me, thanks beforehand :bowing_man:


Thank you for all the information you provide in this thread! I must confess I haven’t yet gotten around to reading everything, but I have bookmarked it for future reference. I will be looking into buying one good monolingual dictionary sometime in the future, and this thread will be invaluable to me then.

As I haven’t yet read everything in detail I can’t really answer your questions, but I’ll try. I’m personally not very interested in elementary school level dictionaries, as I expect their entries to be rather limited (judging by other languages), even if their definitions are simpler. I also wouldn’t be interested in video presentations, text for me is always better. The short write-ups look just fine to me, but it’s possible I might look for more detail when I’m actively trying to select a dictionary, so I can’t answer that definitively.

One thing I’ve always liked looking for in dictionaries are idioms and expressions. Even jisho covers many of those of course, but I do come across expressions once in a while that I can only find by googling outside of dictionaries. I appreciate any dictionary that makes an effort to include and explain them.


This is quite a fair point, though there are a few cases where I would want to defend the use case of elementary school level dictionaries. There are three reasons that pop up in my head quite quickly, namely :

  1. They’re THE best dictionaries to carry around with you in my opinion IF you want to use a paper dictionary (I mostly only take on with me when camping or stuff where I need to conserve my cellphone battery, but it is great for that), especially as several of them come in “wide” editions, but in both versions the text is easy to read, while in other paper dictionaries you sort of have to squint. If you’re only ever going to use digital though, this point would be moot.
  2. While the definitions are definitely easy, the selection of headwords is quite strong for readers of matter that isn’t too specific yet, while I often find words I don’t encounter in these types of dictionaries, it is with quite similar frequency to any of the other small dictionaries.
  3. The inclusion of drawings / pictures for many nouns, which definitely does speed things up if you don’t just Google first for pictures (or don’t have access to the Google for whatever reason).
  4. (bonus) This might not be for everyone, but they’re the only dictionaries I personally just leaf / read through on occasion to encounter random words :person_shrugging:

I’m gonna be honest, somewhat of a relief to hear. I know some people prefer video format, so I wouldn’t MIND doing something like that, but I have never done that sort of stuff before, so all the better if I don’t have to figure it out :stuck_out_tongue:

I’ll see if other people share their opinions, but I might just keep this format then. If you EVER need more in depth information or examples or whatever on any dictionary that grabs your interest, feel free to bother me though :stuck_out_tongue: I’d love for nothing more than help show some examples or whatever to help make your selection!

If this is your cup of tea and you have access to an apple device, there is nothing I could recommend as heartily as the monokakido app, that has a search field just for idioms ^^ Sure, whether the exact idiom would be in the specific dictionary you bought will still depend on their selection, but it is a fantastic extra tool!

Example of idiom search :



Q1 - I think you opinions on elementary school dictionaries would be interesting. I haven’t seen many reviews on the usefulness for language learners.

Q2 - I find the thread to be excellent both in content and format. It is a great reference that I send some people to.

If you have time on your hands and want to learn about video production, video format using these written reviews as an outline would be fun and provide wider coverage. Partly because the YouTube & Google searches are poorly integrated. I like watching dictionary videos but these are niche videos, with an ambitious goal of a few thousand views.


I’ll do a few write-ups then ^^

I appreciate the kind words :bowing_man:

I see ^^ I will definitely try and give a shot to making a video or two on the subject, and if I’m happy with how they turn out I’ll post them here then :stuck_out_tongue: A few thousand views seems like a huge number though tbh, would be worth the effort if like a dozen people found a use for it ^^

Thank you for the feedback :bowing_man:


So, after a quick skim re-read of some of the early posts, I wasn’t sure if the one remaining question I have is covered:

If buying more than one dictionary, say on the Monokakido app (for example), what combination of dictionaries would you suggest? For best coverage of terms in general, or terms plus idioms and such, or some other reason.

I know you’ve put the Monokakido dictionaries in the order you’d recommend them in the post Making the Monolingual leap, but I wasn’t sure if you’d actually recommend buying the top three, or if some other combination might be better.


While my exact recommendations would vary a bit depending on the person’s level, the amount of dictionaries they are looking to buy and how they want to use it, my general advice would be :

If you are just buying one dictionary :

Read up on the entries for whichever one has your fancy (But 明鏡国語辞典 is a great starter one, and the one I would most thoroughly advice)

Two dictionaries :

The first one again should be the one that has your fancy, but the second one depends on which of the camps your first one falls in, if your first one was from camp A I would suggest picking one up from camp B for best coverage / biggest variation in explanations and vice versa (Note : I have arranged them in each camp in the order I would personally recommend them for a general reader at this point in time, though this order can change depending on personal needs) :

Camp A (simpler dictionaries) :

  • 明鏡国語辞典
  • 三省堂国語辞典
  • 三省堂 新明解国語辞典

Camp B (broader dictionaries) :

  • 大辞林4
  • 日本国語大辞典
  • 大辞泉

You want to buy more than two :

It’s only after you have already bought more than two dictionaries that I would start to consider Kanji dictionaries, but a thesaurus is a fantastic tool to explore your dictionaries deeper, and I would advice picking one up as soon as you are in the market for a third dictionary. My main recommendation would be 日本語シソーラス 類語検索辞典 as I fall back on that one a bit more, but both picks are quite solid.


So I haven’t personally bought any yet. I’m hoping the app will have another spring sale like it had last year. :crossed_fingers:

And I haven’t decided how many I’ll pick up, minimum one. But I think I’m looking between 1-3, where I’d probably pick up a group A and a group B, for good coverage of words in general.

For a third, I’d probably want more niche things covered, maybe a lot of idioms and expressions, slang, that kinda thing. Don’t think I’m interested in a kanji dictionary, and I don’t see how a thesaurus would be useful unless I plan to write in Japanese (and I’m not a read a dictionary for fun kinda person).

So I guess, what would be your top pick(s) for slang/idiom/expressions?