In the age of spellcheckers, why do children still need a dictionary or thesaurus?

Today’s children never need to make a mistake. Before they even know they have misspelt (or should that be ‘misspelled’*?) something, it has been corrected by a spellchecker.

And so, why would they continue to need a dictionary?

Here are some points explaining why dictionaries continue to be important learning tools in the digital age.

  • To get spelling right

A dictionary will help to clear up those spelling issues which will cost children valuable marks. Confusable words, like ‘their’, ‘there’ and ‘they’re’ are highlighted, with additional help in children’s dictionaries.

complement NOUN complements 1 the quantity needed to fill or complete something –The ship had its full complement of sailors. 2 the word or words used after verbs such as be and become to complete the sense. In She was brave and He became king of England, the complements are brave and King of England.

  • To understand meaning

Oxford’s children’s dictionaries define words using a context that is familiar to and appropriate for each child’s age, with example sentences to illustrate how these words can be used at their best. Where a word has more than one meaning, each one is numbered.

Dictionaries will help to extend and enrich their vocabulary, which at school can help move them towards the top grades.

irony (say I-ron-ee) NOUN ironies 1 saying the opposite of what you mean in order to emphasize it, e.g. saying ‘What a lovely day’ when it is pouring with rain. 2 an oddly contradictory situation –The irony of it is that I tripped while telling someone else to be careful. [from Greek eiron = someone who pretends not to know]

  • To understand how language works, including punctuation and grammar

Dictionaries help a child to develop children’s writing skills by showing relationships between words, and how you can use grammar and punctuation to greater effect. Extra help is included on how to avoid common mistakes, for example in using an apostrophe correctly.

less ADJECTIVE & ADVERB  smaller in amount; not so much – Make less noise. It is less important.
USAGE Do not use less when you mean fewer. You should use fewer when you are talking about a number of individual things, and less when you are talking about a quantity or mass of something: –The less batter you make, the fewer pancakes you’ll get.

Why do children need a thesaurus?

A thesaurus will help to improve a child’s writing, whether it is writing reports, essays, or creatively for stories or poetry. They can be a further reference for help on punctuation and grammar, in addition to providing the right word for every occasion. A thesaurus can:

Find an alternative or more interesting word, for example, why use ‘walk’, when you could use ‘stroll’, ‘ramble’, or ‘saunter’?

Provide help on particularly overused words, such as ‘go’, ‘say’, and ‘get’.

Find the right word, specific person, place or thing’ for example, if you look up ‘shop’, you will find that someone who sells sweets is called a ‘confectioner’.

nice ADJECTIVE This word is often overused. Here are some alternatives:
1 We had a nice time in Greece.
– pleasant, agreeable, enjoyable, marvellous, wonderful, delightful, splendid
2 They are such nice people.
– pleasant, likeable, agreeable, personable, friendly, congenial, genial
3 That’s rather a nice distinction.
–  fine, subtle, delicate, fastidious


*according to the Oxford English Dictionary, ‘misspelt’ and ‘misspelled’ are both acceptable. ‘Misspelt’ is more usual in British English and ‘misspelled’ in American English.


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