Why the macOS Dictionary?
As a writer, Dictionary is one of my favorite apps under macOS. It’s also one of the most underestimated.
It includes English, French, German dictionaries, and a few others. It comes with an integrated French-English dictionary, and others I don’t use. You can use it as a front-end to search Wikipedia. Add to that a tight integration to macOS—you can invoke it from almost any app containing text, with a gesture or a right-click on a word—it’s hard not to love this app.
The Mac Dictionary, with a partial list of dictionaries.
A dictionary for Windows
TL;DR: There is nothing like the Dictionary app for Windows. But there are workarounds, using some nice apps.
Windows itself doesn’t have a dictionary at all (Edge and Office have their own dictionary/translation modules, though).
The best solution I’ve found to get a quick definition anywhere in Windows and in almost any app, is WordWeb. It works very much like the Mac dictionary: Ctrl+click a word to get its definition (English only), no matter where you use it. Here, in a PDF:
Microsoft Word comes with a French and an English dictionary, a grammar and a spellchecker (probably for other languages too). If you haven’t tested them in a long time, they’ve drastically improved. But, beside basic grammar, they still aren’t that good for fiction/creative work, imo.
You can also install add-ins to Word to get direct access to Wikipedia and Bing translation in a side panel.
Third-party spellcheckers and dictionaries
Next to the already mentioned WordWeb, an app like Antidote is available for French and/or English, and offers a lot for its price:
- Top-notch spell/grammar correctors.
- Multiple dictionaries: definitions, synonyms, antonyms, history, conjugations, and so on.
- Many references guides:
- Grammarly and ProWritingAid are only available for English.
- Grammarly and ProWritingAid need to send your text to their online servers to do their work. Not Antidote that fully works offline—Antidote now offers an optional online version too.
- Grammarly and ProWritingAid are subscription based. Antidote is not. BTW, if you already own Antidote for Mac, you should also own a license for the Windows version.
- Antidote is a standalone app, not just a plugin.
Free online solutions
If you don’t want to spend any money, Grammarly offers a free online version… it’s severely limited but useable. ProWritingAid only offers a trial version.
Many dictionaries are freely available online too.
I use a mix of WordWeb, Microsoft Office, Antidote and ProWritingAid.
As a replacement for the Dictionary, WordWeb is great and gives Windows this super-fast-everywhere access to definitions. It lacks a dark theme, which is something that’d help a lot with my poor eyesight.
I learn a lot using ProWritingAid (even though I don’t listen religiously to its suggestions), often pointing out things I was confident were fine in my text and forcing me to reconsider what I wanted to say and how to say it. I also like its integration in Word:
What I dislike about it:
- Too many bugs. A capricious auto-replace… Plus a few other small things that, at times, can make it a real pain to use.
- It’s sometimes hard to navigate between mistakes.
- It’s also dumb when dealing with texts mixing prose and stuffs like URLs or source code: treating them as mistakes.
- It can stubbornly refuses to ignore certain words.
I’ve been using Antidote for years, in French. It’s a great spellchecker, and it includes so many useful guides and dictionaries. Now supporting English, yeah!
The one thing I regret the most is its lack of support for a dark theme (they recently added it to their macOS version, I hope they’ll soon add it to Windows too). And a lackluster integration to Windows and apps—worse than on macOS. But even imperfect as it is, I won’t even consider not using it.
Microsoft Office own tools, because they work better than ever, because they’re fast and integrated to Word, and because they work in English and in French. If only they were integrated directly into Windows, and not only into Office.
What about my privacy? Am I not worried that companies like Microsoft, Grammarly and ProWritingAid collect what I write? Sure, I’d rather not send any data at all on unknown servers, but what I write will be published, anyway. And as I try my best to learn to write in English, I need all the help I can get.