Dictionaries

This site, Luch sveta, gives you great opportunities to hear authentic, contemporary spoken Russian on interesting current events topics, with full transcripts and English translations. But to be successful at Russian you also need to find a good dictionary that works for you!

The perfect dictionary for language learners would include all of the following:

  • broadest possible range of words including slang, technology-related words, mildly archaic words
  • entries that clearly differentiate between multiple meanings of a word and offer usage examples
  • an explanatory apparatus in your native language (i.e. “noun” or “colloquial” rather than “сущ.” or “разг.”)
  • word stress is marked
  • all inflected forms of the word are indicated, ideally fully spelled out (nouns are declined, verbs are conjugated)
  • is edited by a human trained in linguistics, so you can trust the information
  • both English to Russian and Russian to English options are available
  • is available online or in digital form for speed and convenience

Unfortunately, no single resource meets all of these criteria, and most of the best online resources are designed for a Russian audience. But there are several good options. Try out the suggestions below until you find the combination that works for you.

 

TOP FOUR:

Kenneth Katzner, English-Russian, Russian-English Dictionary

This is probably the best single dictionary for English-speaking Russian language learners. It is more or less comprehensive and presents information clearly with a good amount of usage examples. It is based on American rather than British English, which makes more of a difference than you might think. Drawbacks are that it is not available in digital format and does not reflect new developments in contemporary Russian. Can be purchased for $15-$25 used.

Wiktionary

A decent option for Russian to English translation, with the advantage that all inflected forms of a word are provided. Type in a Russian word and make sure the section you end up looking at is labeled “Russian” (since the word might exist in some other Slavic language). Since it’s a wiki you can never be completely sure what you’ll get but most of the results are quite good, with various word meanings differentiated, some usage examples given, idioms explained, and even a recording of the word’s pronunciation. To see the table of inflected forms, you have to click “show” in the declension / conjugation portion of the entry. Drawback: can be confusing because it’ll tell you what the word means in multiple Slavic languages, if applicable.

Русско-английский словарь Смирницкого

The online version of a very good Russian to English dictionary designed for a Russian-speaking audience. Entries are very comprehensive and clear with numerous usage examples. Drawbacks: explanatory notes are in Russian; word stress is not marked. Can use together with Apresian.

 Новый большой англо-русский словарь Апресяна

The online version of a very good English to Russian dictionary designed for a Russian-speaking audience. Entries are very comprehensive and clear with numerous usage examples. Drawbacks: explanatory notes are in Russian; word stress is not marked. Can use together with Smirnitsky.

 

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

Oxford Russian Dictionary

A respected, extensive standard work. If you have a university affiliation, you may be able to access an online version (search your library catalog and look for a link). However, I found the presentation of information online somewhat confusing and inconsistent compared to Katzner. The online version may be different from the full-fledged hard copy version, which has always been good. Recent editions give more attention to American English, but British still predominates, which can sometimes cause difficulties. Note that “Concise” or “Compact” versions will not be as helpful as the full version.

Cambridge English-Russian Dictionary

Offers English to Russian translation only. Despite the proliferation of ads, the information provided is pretty good, making this a valuable resource given that the other large dictionaries designed for an English-speaking audience are not freely available online. Differentiates very clearly between the different possible meanings and corresponding Russian translations of a given word. Covers idioms well. Drawbacks: word stress not marked.

Викисловарь

The Russian version of Wiktionary. This is a Russian-Russian dictionary, so not helpful to beginners for getting word meanings, but it’s a great resource for checking the inflected forms of a word, including all stress shifts. Just type the Russian word (in its dictionary form) into the box in the upper right hand corner that says “Поиск” and scroll down to find a helpful table that’s a bit easier to access than the one you get via the English-language Wiktionary. For advanced Russian speakers, the word definitions are generally quite reliable and usage examples are provided.

ABBYY Lingvo Live Dictionary

Draws on good human-edited dictionaries to provide both English to Russian and Russian to English translation, as well as additional tools such as grammatical forms, phrases that contain the word and examples of how the word has been translated in various texts. But it’s aimed at a Russian audience so all explanatory notes are in Russian. Stress is marked for the nominative singular form of the word only. Ideally it would work like a convenient combination of the Smirnitsky and Apresian dictionaries, but I find the presentation less clear.

Google Translate

This site is conveniently designed but in practice can be confusing, inaccurate and limited. Google Translate is not a dictionary but a translation machine, a word-matching robot. It doesn’t help you understand the differences between the possible translations it gives for any given word or provide the contextual information necessary for learning. And you can never be sure its results are accurate because it is based on statistical matching rather than human linguistic knowledge. It works a bit better on blocks of text than single words, but here too results can be poor. This is a tool for people who need to get a rough idea of the content of a foreign-language text and have no better option, not a real tool for language learners.

Gramota.ru

An excellent resource for advanced or native Russian speakers looking for a Russian-Russian rather than a Russian-English dictionary. The site offers a quality collection of language reference works including Kuznetsov’s comprehensive Большой толковый словарь русского языка.  The interface is simple and word stress is clearly marked. For the traditional Russian language, it’s a bit more reliable and consistent than Викисловарь, but it has less coverage of slang and newer technology-related language.