Monolingual dictionary corner

I would never have got there without you:)
I tested it out on a kanji that I liked I found browsing in my kanji dictionary, なまぐさい, smelling like a wet sheep, since I used to have sheep, I could really relate, so thanks to you I found where to find stroke count 19, then I found sheep radical, and within minutes, I found 羶.:sweat_smile::joy::grin:
Thank you for taking the time to help me out, so I can actually use shinjigen!

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Glad I could be of help :smile_cat: Feel free to drop in whenever with your experiences or any problems / questions ^^

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Okay, so, this is just a super quick post, and you all might be more technologically literate than me and already know this, but it got pointed out to me by a friend today and for me this is an absolute game changer.

Did you all know you can select text when you take a picture with your cellphone? I normally spent like around a minute or so (and every so often a lot more) having to search up a kanji on stroke order and radical if I don’t know the reading in a physical book. But I can just take a picture, long press on the piece of text I want to select and hit copy. It is relatively reliable, and if it does miss a stroke in a compound word you can just use a wildcard (*) in place of the wrongly scanned kanji. This is absolutely wild, and an absolute game changer ^^(Though I still think the skill of looking things up by radical and stroke order are quite useful to have)

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If you are using an iPhone, then welcome to iOS 16 :grin:

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Thank you so much for this post! I’m just barely at where I can start using J-J dictionaries and I just bought the 明鏡国語辞典 from Kinokuniya. I love learning Japanese!

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I mean, its significantly quicker to look up a word that I am familiar with an associating it with the one I am looking at. The monolingual approach is cool and has a lot of merit but sometimes I just need the answer.

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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:

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@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. . .

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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.

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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: )

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That’s right! I agree with you there.

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現代国語例解辞典

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First edition:1982
Last edition:2016 (fifth edition)
Publisher:小学館
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.

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新潮現代国語辞典

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First edition:1985
Last edition:2000 (second edition)
Publisher:新潮社
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.

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三省堂現代新国語辞典

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First edition:1988
Last edition:2018 (sixth edition)
Publisher:三省堂
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.

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集英社国語辞典

First edition:1993
Last edition:2012 (third edition)
Publisher:三省堂
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.

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学研 現代新国語辞典 改訂

Regular edition :

Small Edition :

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First edition:1994
Last edition:2017 (sixth edition)
Publisher:三省堂
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.

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角川必携国語辞典

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First (and current) edition:1995
Publisher:角川学芸出版
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.

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小学館日本語新辞典

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First (and current) edition:2004
Publisher:小学館
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 ^^

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