Difference Between Dictionary and Thesaurus

Main Difference – Dictionary vs.Thesaurus

Both dictionary and thesaurus are reference books for words and are essential tools for writers as well as language learners. The main difference between dictionary and thesaurus is that a dictionary is a book that contains the spelling, meaning and pronunciation of individual words in a language whereas thesaurus is a book that provides synonyms for words.

What is a Dictionary

A dictionary can be described as a collection of words in one or more specific languages listed alphabetically, which provides definitions, meanings, and pronunciations of words. When you find an unfamiliar word, you can look up that word in a dictionary; the dictionary will give you the meaning, pronunciation, orthography, and even the origins of that word. Thus, it can be said that the aim of a dictionary is to explain the orthography, pronunciation and signification of words in a particular language.

A dictionary can also refer to a book of words in one language with their equivalents in another language. This type of dictionaries is especially useful to language learners, tourists and translators.

Dictionary can be further classified as general dictionaries and specialized dictionaries. Specialized dictionaries contain words that belong to specific fields such as medicine, business, IT, etc.

Given below is an excerpt from a dictionary entry.

Recover /rɪˈkʌvə/ (transitive) to find again or obtain the return of (something lost); to regain (loss of money, position, time, etc.); recoup….

Compare this entry with the  following excerpt from a bilingual dictionary. (French – English)

Recouvrir recover; enfant cover up again (couvrir entièrement) cover (de with); (cacher, embrasser) coverDifference Between Dictionary and Thesaurus

What is a Thesaurus

A thesaurus is a reference book that contains words of similar meaning. It is arranged either in alphabetical or conceptual order. A thesaurus comes in use when you are looking for synonyms for specific words to avoid repetition. Unlike a dictionary, a thesaurus does not give the meaning, definition or etymology of a word. It draws our attention the similarities between words and assist us in choosing the exact word. Sometimes, they indicate antonyms as well.Roget’s Thesaurus (1852) compiled by Peter Mark Roget is considered to be the first modern thesaurus.

Here is an example of a thesaurus entry for the verb recover

Recover (verb): get better, improve, get well, recuperate, pick up, heal, revive, come round, bounce back, mend, turn the corner, pull through, convalesce, be on the mend, take a turn for the better….Main Difference - Dictionary vs.Thesaurus

Difference Between Dictionary and Thesaurus


Dictionary contains meaning, definition, pronunciation, orthography, etymology, part of speech of a word.

Thesaurus contains synonyms and antonyms of words.


The aim of a dictionary is to provide orthography, pronunciation and signification of words in a particular language.

The aim of a thesaurus is to help the writer to find more suitable words and avoid the repetition of terms.


If you find an unfamiliar word, you can look it up in a Dictionary.

If you want to find a synonym for a word, you use the Thesaurus.


Dictionary follows an alphabetical order.

Thesaurus follows an alphabetical or conceptual order.


Dictionary is more used by people compared to a thesaurus.

Thesaurus is less used by people compared to a dictionary.

Difference Between Dictionary and Thesaurus- infographic

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