Publication details [#12408]

Van der Meer, Geart. 1997. Four English learner's dictionaries and their treatment of figurative meanings. English Studies 78 (6) : 556–571. 16 pp.
Publication type
Article in journal
Publication language
Place, Publisher
Taylor & Francis Online


In our study, we look at how figurative language (metaphor, in most cases) is organized in dictionary entries. We look at four English learner dictionaries, namely the Collins Cobuild English Dictionary, Cambridge International Dictionary of English, Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, and Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. Our stance is that dictionaries that are clear about the so-called ‘synchronic etymology’ of words with literal and figurative meanings are the most helpful for language learners. When the figurative meaning is placed first, two outcomes follow, namely that the contribution of the literal meaning is overshadowed and that the link between literal and figurative meaning is weakened. The layout of the Cambridge dictionary seems to favor connections between the two types of meanings, as they are not numbered differently or listed in separate (sub-)entries. It seems to also use examples suitably for both defining and illustrating figurative senses. Other recommended strategies used in the examples we propose are to have lexical and syntactic parallelism between both literal and figurative definitions as well as to make reference to the frequency of usage of each of them.