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How do I search the Oxford English Dictionary (OED)?

Look up words and learn their history.

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Betty Sue Jessup Library

501 College Drive
Charlottesville, VA 22902

Search OED

Step 1:

Access the Oxford English Dictionary.  Note: If you're off-campus, you will be prompted to login with your myPVCC username and password.

Step 2:

Enter a word to look up in the search box.  Click Go.

search box


Step 3:

Review the results.  Select the entry you want to read.  Pay attention to the part of speech as you do this.  Do you want the form of the word that's a noun or verb or adjective?

results show parts of speech after search term


Step 4:

Read through the definitions.  The most common definition is usually at the top.  




  • The power of the Oxford English Dictionary (as opposed to just googling "define chicken") is it gives you a more detailed definition and examples of it being used in a sentence.  It also includes a history of the word - where it came from and the many ways it's been used over the years.  For example, did you know the word "chicken" was once used as slang in the US Navy?  Consider it the reverse of Urban Dictionary, which gives you the up-to-the-minute use of a word.
    detailed definition, examples, and history of word
  • Another thing to pay attention to is the date the entry was updated.  The OED is a "living text," which means that entries are frequently reviewed and updated.  The second edition of the OED was released in 1989, so most definitions won't have changed dramatically since then.  It's just something to keep mind.  Look on the right of the entry for this information.
    example of updated entry   VS  example of older edition entry‚Äč