How to cite a dictionary entry in MLA style
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.
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|
The part of speech should always be included when available, even if it’s the only one listed for the word you’re citing.
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.
If available, include the definition number in parentheses after the part of speech.
If there’s no definition number, you can omit this part.
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 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)|
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.|
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)|