How to Add the American English Dictionary and Look Up Definitions on iPhone & iPad

How to Add the American English Dictionary and Look Up Definitions on iPhone & iPad

Looking up definitions in a hardcover or pocket dictionary has become the outdated equivalent to looking up businesses in a phone book.

Nowadays, to look up a definition, we just start typing a word into a dictionary app, web app or search engine and matches instantly begin populating. We don't even have to type the whole word.

On iOS (iPhone and iPad), Apple includes about 30 dictionaries, but if your device isn't set to English or the US region and you want to expand your English vocabulary in a fast and convenient way –– add the American English Dictionary.

The dictionary can be used in all of the stock apps (Safari, Mail, Messages, Notes, Reminders, iBooks, etc.) and third-party apps. Even if you prefer to keep your iPhone or iPad in your native language, you can still use the American English Dictionary.

In this post, I’m going to show you how to add the American English Dictionary to iPhone and iPad on iOS 11 and use it to look up definitions and translations.

How to Add the American English Dictionary

iPhone / iPad (iOS 11)

  1. Tap Settings.

  2. Tap General.

  3. Tap Dictionary.

  4. Tap American English (New Oxford American Dictionary).

  5. A check mark will appear and the dictionary will begin downloading.

  6. Tap the Home Button. For iPhone X, swipe up from the bottom of the screen.

To remove a dictionary, Tap Settings > General > Tap the dictionary you want to remove. Once the checkmark disappears, the dictionary is removed.

How to Look Up English Definitions

iPhone / iPad (iOS 11)

  1. Tap to launch an app or Home Screen Bookmark, such as the Culture Gaps bookmark.

  2. Select a word to highlight. The Edit Menu will appear.

  3. Tap Look Up.

  4. When available, several options will overlay the screen with cards for App Store, Apple Music, Movies, SIRI Knowledge, SIRI Suggested Websites, Maps, Search Web, Manage Dictionaries, etc. The Dictionary will always be the first choice. Tap the Dictionary card to reveal more information such as the word, IPA part of speech and definition. When available, there may be may be synonyms, antonyms, phrases, phrasal verbs, derivatives, usage, origin, etc.

  5. When finished, tap Done.

How to Look Up Non-English Definitions & Translations

iPhone / iPad (iOS 11)

Non-English definitions and translations of English words can be looked up if your language is available. Tap Settings > General > Tap the dictionary you want to install.

Since my wife's iPhone language is set to English and she already has the American English Dictionary installed, she added the Japanese Dictionary and Japanese-English Dictionary.

Now, if she wants to translate an English word into Japanese, she just taps Look Up. The Japanese Dictionary and the Japanese-English Dictionary are presented below the English Dictionary. However, words that aren't in the Japanese dictionaries aren't available for Look Up. For example, in the screenshot above, "sure-fire" wasn't available, so my wife selected "conversation" instead.

Where's the Dictionary App on iOS?

Currently, there isn't a first-party dictionary app on iOS like Dictionary on macOS, but I hope we get one in iOS 12. Personally, I'd also like to be able to select words in the dictionary to jump to other definitions and to also create favorited lists that I can review later. Apple, are you getting this?


You just learned how to add the American English Dictionary to iPhone and iPad on iOS 11 and look up definitions and translations. A dictionary is a must-have tool for English language learners who are studying American English or living in the U.S. It's also an indispensable tool for anyone who wants to expand their vocabulary. Add it to your iOS device and start using it today.

After adding the American English Dictionary to your device, here's an interesting word to look up ––Tarantism. How'd it go? Answer in the Comments below.

How to Add the American English Dictionary and Look Up Definitions on iPhone & iPad first appeared on the Culture Gaps Blog by Jeff Shibasaki.


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Jeff Shibasaki blogs about effective communication skills for the USA at Culture Gaps and healthy web design for unhealthy websites at Bento Sites.