How to cite a dictionary or encyclopedia in APA Style

To cite a dictionary definition in APA style, start with the word you’re citing, followed by the publication year, the dictionary name, and the publisher or URL. If there is no publication date, replace it with “n.d.” (“no date”).

 APA dictionary citation example
FormatEntry name. (Year). In Dictionary name (edition). Place: Publisher or Retrieved from URL
Reference listDocumentation. (n.d.). In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/documentation
In-text citation(“Documentation,” n.d.)

The format for encyclopedia entries is exactly the same, except that they’re more likely to list authors:

 APA encyclopedia citation example
Reference listLariviere, S. (n.d.). Hooded seal. In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/animal/hooded-seal
In-text citation(Lariviere, n.d.)

How to cite an online dictionary entry

Online dictionaries and encyclopedias tend to be continuously updated, so you usually won’t have a specific publication date. In this case, write “n.d.” (no date) in place of the year:

Citation. (n.d.). In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/citation

If an author is listed, as is the case in many encyclopedias and some specialist dictionaries, include this in the normal author position. When an online reference work lists a specific edition, this information can also be included and its publication date listed:

Graham, G. (2019). Behaviorism. In E.N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (Summer 2019 ed.). Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2019/entries/behaviorism/

Note that the format is slightly different when you want to cite Wikipedia.

7th edition updates

In the 7th edition of the APA manual, instead of starting with the title, the name of the dictionary’s publisher is listed as author. The 7th edition also recommends adding a retrieval date for online dictionary citations with no publication date:

Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Citation. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved November 28, 2019 from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/citation

How to cite a print dictionary

Citing from a print dictionary differs in that you’ll always be using a specific edition with a publication date, so this information should appear in your citation:

Eyewitness. (1996). In The Oxford Compact English Dictionary. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Print dictionaries still don’t usually list authors, although in some specialist dictionaries and encyclopedias an author may be listed. In this case, include it at the beginning of the citation.

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In-text citations for dictionaries

For in-text citations with no author and date, place the title of the entry in quotation marks, and use “n.d.” in place of a missing date:

(“Citation,” n.d.)

If an author or date is listed, include these as in a standard APA in-text citation:

(Graham, 2019)
7th edition updates

If you’re following the 7th edition and listing the publisher as author, you should also do so in the in-text citation:

(Merriam-Webster, n.d.)

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Jack Caulfield

Jack is a Brit based in Amsterdam, with an MA in comparative literature. He writes and edits for Scribbr, and reads a lot of books in his spare time.

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