A useful but very overlooked tool in macOS is the Dictionary app, which allows you to look up word definitions and phrases from a variety of sources.
How to look up a word in the macOS dictionary
To look up a word, launch the Dictionary app from the Launchpad or click the Siri icon in the Mac menu bar (top right) and say, “Hey, Siri, open Dictionary.”
Type a word or phrase in the search field in the upper-right corner of the tool’s window. A window will pop up with the definition from (by default, at least in macOS Big Sur) the New Oxford American Dictionary. However, you can also click options to find a word or phrase in the online Thesaurus, Apple’s websites, or Wikipedia.
How to change the source of definitions
However, you can change the source of definitions. With Dictionary open, under the app’s name in the menu bar, click Preferences. You can select from Arabic-to-English, English US, and Chinese Simplified options. You can also select a language other than English for search results.
By the way, if you add another Dictionary source, wait for it to download completely before searching for a word or phrase.
While reading a definition, you’ll see links (blue text) to related words. In addition, you can hold the pointer over any word or phrase and click to look up its definition.
What to do if you have problems finding a result
If you search for a word and Dictionary can’t find any results, it may not be in the sources selected in Dictionary preferences, or it may be restricted by Screen Time settings. When possible, Dictionary suggests alternative words.
Speaking of Screen Time, you can use its System Preferences to restrict access to explicit content in Dictionary for yourself or someone else. To change these preferences on your Mac:
- Choose Apple menu > System Preferences
- Click Screen Time
- Select Content & Privacy in the sidebar
- Click Content
To enable content & privacy restrictions and you’ll be presented with several options. To turn off content & privacy restrictions, click the Turn Off button.
You can also make text bigger or smaller. In the Dictionary app on your Mac, click the font-size buttons in the toolbar of the Dictionary window.