German dictionaries come in many shapes, sizes, price ranges and language variations. They range in format from online and CD-ROM software to large multivolume print editions resembling an encyclopedia. Smaller editions may have only 5,000 to 10,000 entries, while larger hardcover versions offer over 800,000 entries. You get what you pay for: the more words, the more money. Choose wisely!
Consider Your NeedsNot everyone needs a German dictionary with 500,000 entries, but the typical paperback dictionary has only 40,000 entries or less. You'll get very frustrated using a dictionary that's not up to your needs. Note that a dual-language dictionary with 500,000 entries is actually only 250,000 for each language. Don't get a dictionary with fewer than 40,000 entries.
One Language or Two?
Monolingual, German-only dictionaries offer several advantages. Because they are in a single language, they usually contain more entries. And you're using a dictionary that Germans use! But a dual-language edition offers other advantages, especially when translation is a concern. I use both kinds myself.
German Spelling Reform
A German dictionary with a copyright prior to 1998 (and sometimes even later!) has a problem called "Rechtschreibreform." German spelling reform has changed words such as "daß" to "dass" and also altered certain grammar and punctuation rules. Without a recent German dictionary, you're lost! Of course, an older dictionary has other problems, including a lack of newer words.
Software or Print Versions?
There's no substitute for a real print dictionary you can hold in your hands, but CD-ROM and online German dictionaries are helpful and can save time. We offer our own English-German glossaries and links to many online German dictionaries that can be quite helpful.
Dictionaries for Special Purposes
Sometimes a regular German dictionary, no matter how good it may be, just isn't adequate for the job. That's when a medical, technical, business, scientific or other industrial-strength dictionary is called for. Such specialized dictionaries tend to be expensive, but they fill a need. Some are available online.
The EssentialsWhatever kind of dictionary you decide on, make sure it has the basics: noun plurals, genitive endings, cases for prepositions, at least 40,000 entries, and so on. Cheap dictionaries often lack such information and are not worth buying.