Each fall, as a chill returns to the evening air, and homework returns to the kitchen table, parents repeat the dictionary mantra: "Look it up!" And for many generations, students have replied , "How can I look it up if I don't know how to spell it?" That excuse is finally quashed. These online dictionaries are handy for several reasons. First, if you are already online, you can either cut-and-paste, or use a dictionary toolbar in your browser. And finally, if misspell your entry, many of these dictionaries will suggest correctly spelled alternatives.
Dictionary.com includes biblical names, chemical elements, computer terms, international statistics, and zip codes as well as the correct spelling and definition of English words -- all in one search function. But wait, there's more! Daily crossword puzzles and word searches, Word of the Day, Ask Doctor Dictionary, and a link to sister site Thesaurus.com combine to make Dictionary.com a site worth bookmarking.
The Free Dictionary is designed to be a customized home page, with optional word-related content that can be dragged, dropped or removed. Content modules include Word of the Day, customized Word List, Spelling Bee game, synonym match-up game, Quotation of the Day, Hangman, and, of course, a dictionary. To begin, simply move the modules around, and then click "Save this page." Your settings are saved on a cookie on your computer, and will be there the next time you return to the site. If you clear your cookies, or want to access your custom page from another computer, you will also be given a custom link to bookmark.
From "aardvark" to "zoologist," little Net surfers can click their way through the alphabet. Each letter of Little Explorers' dictionary has dozens of illustrated entries, most of them linked to external sites. For the letter A", explore Africa, acid rain, astronomy and more. As you roam onto the Net, the Little Explorers' alphabet frame remains at the top of your screen, so you can return at any time. The dictionary is also available in English/Spanish, English/French, English/German and Portugese.
I don't know why my mouth trips over the word "quintessential." It's one of my favorite words lately. I'm hoping that I've re-programmed my brain by listening to it repeatedly at this Merriam-Webster dictionary site. In addition to the audio pronunciation clips, visit to grab a free dictionary look-up toolbar for Firefox or Internet Explorer, to play a fun round of Dictionary Devil, and to listen to the Word for the Wise audio broadcast. The Visual Dictionary is another don't miss click. With fifteen themes and 6000 images, you'll "see words like never before."
Word Central, the student dictionary site from Merriam-Webster, is my pick of the day. In addition to a fast dictionary function, you can play games, and build your own dictionary that includes special made-up words (every family has a few, don't they?) Other fun clicks are the BIGBot vocabulary game, and the Daily Buzzword ( available online, via email or RSS.) Follow the Educator's link for a complete list of word games from other Merriam-Webster websites.