How to cite a dictionary entry in MLA style

In MLA style, a Works Cited entry for a dictionary entry usually starts with the title of the entry—since dictionaries usually don’t list authors.

The example below shows how to cite an entry in an online dictionary. If the page displays the year when the specific entry was last updated, use that year after the dictionary name. Otherwise, include an access date after the URL instead, as in this example.

Format Word, Part of speech. (Definition number).” Dictionary Name, Year, URL.
Works Cited entry “Lock, N. (2).” Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/lock. Accessed 28 July 2020.
In-text citation (“Lock,” def. 2.a)

You can easily cite a dictionary entry with the help of our free MLA Citation Generator.


Parts of speech and definition numbers

Some words are spelled the same but have different meanings and functions. To distinguish between them in your Works Cited list, MLA recommends you include the part of speech and (if available) the definition number of the entry you are citing.

“Leave, V. (2).”

Part of speech

A part of speech identifies the grammatical role a word plays. There are eight parts of speech in English: noun, pronoun, verb, adjective, adverb, preposition, conjunction, and interjection. Dictionaries usually identify the part of speech next to the word.

MLA recommends abbreviating the part of speech, and presenting it in italics. Check the table below for the correct abbreviation of each part of speech.

Part of speech Abbreviation
Noun N.
Pronoun Pron.
Verb V.
Adjective Adj.
Adverb Adv.
Preposition Prep.
Conjunction Conj.
Interjection Interj.

The part of speech should always be included when available, even if it’s the only one listed for the word you’re citing.

Definition number

If there are multiple identical words that function as the same part of speech but have different meanings, they will usually be numbered to distinguish between them. Look for a number that appears next to the part of speech, not the numbering within the entry itself.

For example, here’s an entry from the Merriam-Webster online dictionary.

Structure of a dictionary entry

If available, include the definition number in parentheses after the part of speech.

“Mean, Adj. (2).”

If there’s no definition number, you can omit this part.

In-text citations

In the in-text citation, the title should be shortened to just the word itself—omit the part of speech and definition number here.

However, if you need to direct the reader to a specific sense of the word, you can do this using the numbering within the specific entry you’re citing. Use the abbreviation “def.” for “definition” and give the numbering that identifies the specific sense you’re citing.

Citing a specific definition within an entry

However, the word lock can also refer to “an enclosure . . . with gates at each end used in raising or lowering boats” (“Lock,” def. 2.a).

Citing a print dictionary

To cite an entry from a dictionary you accessed in print, omit the URL and add the edition, the publisher, and the page number of the entry.

Note that page numbers are not included in the in-text citation, since most dictionary entries appear on a single page. The numbering within the entry is a more useful locator and should be used instead.

Format Word, Part of speech. (Definition number).” Dictionary Name, Edition, Publisher, Year, p. Page number.
Works Cited entry “Content, N. (4).” Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed., Merriam-Webster, 2003, p. 269.
In-text citation (“Content,” def. 4.1.b)

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Citing a dictionary entry with an author

Some specialist dictionaries do list authors—either a single overall author or editor, or an overall editor in combination with individual authors for the different entries. Specialist dictionaries may not list parts of speech or definition numbers; omit them if not included.

To cite a dictionary with a single author or editor, just include their name at the start of your Works Cited entry, followed by “editor” if that’s how they’re identified on the title page.

Format Author last name, First name, editor. “Entry Title.” Dictionary Name, Edition, Publisher, Year, p. Page number.
Works Cited entry Butterfield, Jeremy, editor. “Euphemism.” Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage, 4th ed., Oxford UP, 2015, p. 277.
In-text citation (Butterfield)

When the dictionary lists different authors for individual entries, list the author of the entry you cite first, then include the editor of the dictionary later. The example below comes from an online specialist dictionary.

Format Author last name, First name. “Entry Title.” Dictionary Name, edited by Editor first name Last name, Edition, Publisher, Year, URL.
Works Cited entry Marquis, Jean-Pierre. “Category Theory.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta, winter 2018 ed., Stanford U, 2018, plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2018/entries/category-theory/.
In-text citation (Marquis, sec. 1.2)

Frequently asked questions about MLA citations

Whom should I list as the author of a dictionary entry in MLA style?

In most standard dictionaries, no author is given for either the overall dictionary or the individual entries, so no author should be listed in your MLA citations.

Instead, start your Works Cited entry and your in-text citation with the title of the entry you’re citing (i.e. the word that’s being defined), in quotation marks.

If you cite a specialist dictionary that does list an author and/or overall editor, these should be listed in the same way as they would for other citations of books or book chapters.

How do I cite a source with no author or page numbers in MLA?

If a source has no author, start the MLA Works Cited entry with the source title. Use a shortened version of the title in your in-text citation.

If a source has no page numbers, you can use an alternative locator (e.g. a chapter number, or a timestamp for a video or audio source) to identify the relevant passage in your in-text citation. If the source has no numbered divisions, cite only the author’s name (or the title).

If you already named the author or title in your sentence, and there is no locator available, you don’t need a parenthetical citation:

  • Rajaram argues that representations of migration are shaped by “cultural, political, and ideological interests.”
  • The homepage of The Correspondent describes it as “a movement for radically different news.”
What is the easiest way to create MLA citations?

The fastest and most accurate way to create MLA citations is by using Scribbr’s MLA Citation Generator.

Search by book title, page URL or journal DOI to automatically generate flawless citations, or cite manually using the simple citation forms.

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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.

1 comment

Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
July 1, 2021 at 8:20 PM

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