Apple’s Dictionary

If you need help about a word iOS doesn’t let you alone and usually there is no need to quit the app, open a language app or Safari to look it up. This can be inconvenient because of the One-Window-Technique on mobiles.

iOS offers a feature called ‘Define’ which is available in the context menu if you mark a word by double-tapping on it.


History …

Dictionary is an application developed by Apple as a part of OS X. The application provides definitions and synonyms from the New Oxford American Dictionary, 3rd Edition and Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, 2nd Edition. It a section called ‘Apple’ which includes Apple-related items.

Apple originally implemented a built-in dictionary in iBooks, which was launched as part of iOS 4. Then with the arrival of iOS 5, Apple upgraded it to be available system-wide. Ever since then, even after the arrival of iOS 6, it wasn’t updated. With iOS 7 management of multiple dictionaries was added.

Installation …

iOS comes without any dictionary if the operating system is installed on your device. So you first have to download it for the language of your choice. See the image above.

Usage …

Double tap on a word and select ‘Define’ from the context menu.
An explanation of the word is shown but only if you are lucky and it’s in the dictionary or you didn’t make a typo when it was written by yourself in a text editor or an E-Mail.


Memory …

If you download e.g. the New Oxford American Dictionary the size of the downloaded database is about 400 MB for all (14) supported languages. The dictionary is stored locally so that you don’t need an active internet connection to use it.

Pros and cons …

  • Within the dictionary you cannot use the COPY-Command.
  • A search history is not available.
  • In addition to the basic information the detailed screen shows also phrases and the origin of the selected word. The offer of phrases is quite poor.


  • If further information is needed and the user taps on ‘Search Web’ Safari opens with the selected word as the search term. So there is only one way back to the app by using the Multitasking View.
    It would have been an easy task to integrate the browser into the Dictionary dialog.
  • There is no speech output if the feature is used for a foreign language.
    In my case it would be helpful because my native language is German but text is always written in English.
  • In many cases words can only be understood if there are enough example sentences which let users see how terms are used in the foreign language.
  • Dictionary doesn’t allow to set font sizes.

The only pro is the existence of this feature and that it can be used system-wide, that means, wherever you can mark a word the feature ‘Define’ is available.

Related topics …

Writing on an iOS device in the native or a foreign language is supported by several options available in Settings – General – Keyboard.

I myself installed 3 keyboards, English (for writing blogs), German (for writing E-Mails to Germans or German companies), and Emoji (for accessing symbols). Dependent on the actual keyboard (which can be changed within the keyboard by tapping on the globe) iOS checks spelling and displays ‘Define’ in that language which is defined by the keyboard.


The image shows the system behavior of some settings related to writing text.

Summary …

‘Define’ is a useful feature but should be improved.

Thanks for dropping by.
If you find any typos iOS spelling failed.