Read the dictionary

Lire le dictionnaire

Learn how to surf on the "word wide web" or dictionary...and have fun with it!

Words are interconnected and one way to become aware and take advantage of it is to read  "intelligently" a monolingual dictionary in the language you are learning.

Dictionaries are not to be read like novels or essays but jumping from one definition to the other.

At first, you can start with words that are familiar to you, so the definition will be rather transparent, then you can try the same reading exercise with unknown words.


Write your starter word at the top of the page and its definition(s) in the middle of the page. Look for the definition(s) of words from the main definition(s) and start to build a word web around them like in mind mapping.

On line French dictionaries

Dictionnaire multifonctions  TV5  (Definitions with hypertext links)

Larousse en ligne(+ Encyclopedia)




Example: indemnité



From looking at the definition, you learn that it is a NOUN and it is feminine (n.f.). Then you read the definition:

Somme allouée pour dédommager d'un préjudice.

- you might identify  some similarities with English in the vocabulary such as  prejudice - damage - indemnity (if you know the word)...

- you might identify one past participle (-ED form) allouée and one infinitive ( TO form) dédommager

- you might recognize two prepositions pour (for, in order to) and d' (of/from/about) and indefinite article un (a)

Look for the definitions of each word  from the first definition and start to build a web of words and definitions.
Enjoy the process!

Somme n.f.  1.  résultat d'une addition 2.  quantité déterminée d'argent

You might understand from definition 1 that French somme correspond to English sum.

Argent n.m. 1. métal précieux blanc; élément chimique (Ag.) 2. Monnaie en pièces ou en billets

You understand from definition 2 that French somme can have several meanings 1.  result of an addition or 2. a lumpsum of money (argent).

Allouée  looks like a past participle (-ED form) -ée, so you should be looking for the corresponding infinitive (TO form) of the verb: allouer

Allouer vt. accorder, attribuer  

Knowing the meaning, you might make the connection with English allocate 


Dédommager vt.  donner un dédommagement, une compensation pour préjudice subi

Here, you might notice that the derived noun dédommagement has compensation for synonym and you might deduct that dédommager means something close to  to compensate (for).

Préjudice looks familiar, but beware of false friends and check its meaning anyway.


préjudice n.m. Atteinte aux droits, aux intérêts de qqun ; tort, dommage. The definition is not very transparent but luckyly we find an interesting synonym: dommage.



Put all your information together and try to come up with what you think the definition of the starter word is.



If you feel that though you're close to the general meaning of the starter word but are still missing the exact translation in English, then and only then,  go have a look in a bilingual dictionary.

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