|Using Your Dictionary Effectively|
One of the most useful tools you have is your dictionary. A good one can help you select the proper word out of several possibilities to fit a particular context, guide you to idiomatic expressions where a literal translation does not work, find out whether a particular verb requires a direct object, find out what case you need to use with an unfamiliar verb, get the correct conjugation of a verb, and get the correct plural form of nouns. A bad one will make your life miserable and your writing funny or hard to understand. Since each dictionary is a little different, this hand-out will help you select a good dictionary and provide exercises to help you become familiar with it. The exercises are based on the Harper-Collins German Dictionary - College Edition (over 70,000 words) and the paperback Langenscheidt’s German-English/English-German Dictionary (over 50,000 words), two common, inexpensive dictionaries, but they work with others. The Harper-Collins is more complete and has better hints on usage, but sometimes makes finding plurals a bit tedious. The Langenscheidt is less expensive, less complete, somewhat better for finding noun plurals, but much less helpful for picking the correct word, because you have to look up each German translation in the German-English part to see if it could work in your context.|
Buy the best dictionary you can. Using a poor dictionary just because you already have it or it is inexpensive will cost you in the long run in effort, frustration, and misleading information. All dictionaries have pluses and minuses, but you should be able to get an adequate one for under $16.00. Look for at least 50,000 words (preferably more) and lots of examples of words in context. When trying to decide on a dictionary, look up an English word, like mind. You should see quite a few expressions, like “on my mind”, “to be out of one’s mind”, or “mind your own business”. You also want to see information on plural forms. Look up the German word Mann. You should see information on its gender (masculine). You should also see some cryptic notations after the word, like -(e)s, ¨-er. (The -(e)s is NOT the plural ending. It is the genitive case ending of the noun. It is traditional in German dictionaries to put the genitive ending before the plural ending of a noun. The ¨-er is the plural ending. This notation means that the root vowel of the noun (a in Mann) is umlauted and er is tacked on the end: Männer.) Look up the verb helfen. Can you tell from the entry how to say “help with something”? What German preposition is used instead of English “with”? If the dictionary you already own or are thinking of buying does not have such information, it will probably not work well for this class.
Let’s get familiar with your dictionary. Don’t worry if you are not familiar with some of the features asked about here. By the end of this class, you will be.
List of abbreviations