Using Arabic-English dictionaries correctly is a finely honed art. Or science. Or… well the point is it takes some practice!

I’m sure you know the basics. Words are listed by their roots rather than the strict alphabetical order which we are accustomed to in English dictionaries.

So if you don’t know how the Arabic language is structured (i.e. how Arabic roots work), good luck trying to find anything!

Therefore, if you are a complete beginner, forget about dictionaries, and worry about grammar. Do Part A of our Arabic Grammar course to get started (you are not required to know how to use a dictionary for that course).

Once you have learnt enough grammar to understand how Arabic roots and Arabic morphology works, you will be ready to use an Arabic dictionary. Now you have to make a decision:

Arabic dictionaries generally cater either for classical or modern Arabic, but rarely both. The student has to decide which one he or she wishes to focus on, and then find a dictionary or dictionaries appropriate to his aims.

If you want to focus solely on Modern Arabic, well good news, Hans Wehr will cater for all your needs.

On the other hand, if you’re interested in Classical or Quranic Arabic, then you’re in a Catch 22: using classical Arabic dictionaries requires having a good level of classical Arabic, and getting to a good level of classical Arabic requires being able to use classical Arabic dictionaries.

For more information (and a way out of this dilemma!) see the articles Quranic Arabic, Classical Arabic and MSA and How to Learn Arabic: Part 3 – Arabic Dictionaries.

Check out the reviews below of the best known and best quality dictionaries.

Hans WehrHans Wehr: A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic HavaJ. G. Hava: Arabic-English Dictionary for Advanced Learners
Lane's LexiconE. Lane: Arabic-English Lexicon (Lane’s Lexicon)