What are the online dictionaries that shows the meaning of words from the most common to the less common meaning?

Normally I use the following dictionaries:

Now, for example, I'm looking for the common meaning of the adjective "steep" and I found many meanings but it's clear what's most common meaning of this word. So I'd like to know in which one of the dictionaries I have to rely when I'm looking for a meaning based on a structure from a most common to the less common meanings.

  • 2
    Not possible! The less common words for non natives could be common for Americans and Brits! :) So, it's difficult for the dictionaries to decide what's common and what's not! It depends on the user. Some words have many meanings and they all are extremely common in use. Additional suggestion: Don't use wordweb!
    – Maulik V
    May 7, 2018 at 2:55
  • Why is it not possible? In any language there are many meaning to one word whereas just one of them is mainly in use and the others can be found rarely or in old literature. In my language we have two types of dictionaries: synchronic and diachronic which means the same for what I asked (one shows the definitions from the old meaning to the common meaning and the second shows firstly the the most common meaning and just later the less common meanings.I think it is called in linguistics terminology: synchronic or diachronic dictionary. May 7, 2018 at 4:40
  • In the meantime my classmate refered me to this page of oxford which says: "In oxforddictionaries.com, where words have more than one meaning the most important and common meanings are given first, with less common and more specialist or technical uses coming later in the entry. In the OED, on the other hand, meanings are ordered chronologically, starting with their first recorded use. The OED is a record of all the core words and meanings in the English language dating from over 1,000 years ago or more to the present day, including many obsolete..." oxforddictionaries.com/oed May 7, 2018 at 4:43
  • I've read/heard countenance more for support and approval! Who'll decide that face/facial expression is more common? en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/countenance
    – Maulik V
    May 7, 2018 at 4:52
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because requests for resources are off-topic. See What topics can I ask about here?
    – user3169
    May 7, 2018 at 5:03

1 Answer 1


After doing some research, it appears there are two main orderings for dictionaries:

  1. Historical ordering. The first know usage is shown first, and then subsequent definitions follow.
  2. Frequency, or most common usage, is shown first.

Some dictionaries explicitly state which order they follow:


"For example, frequency information allowed the team to rank senses by importance and usefulness to the learner (thus the most common meaning should be put first)." https://www.collinsdictionary.com/cobuild/


"(our Learner’s Dictionary gives the most common sense of a word first, and our Unabridged tends to give the oldest sense first)."

Oxford Unabridged Dictionary:

"As a historical dictionary, the Oxford English Dictionary explains words by showing their development rather than merely their present-day usages.[6] Therefore, it shows definitions in the order that the sense of the word began being used, including word meanings which are no longer used."

The next helpful clue will be to actually check on some entries.

Merriam Webster's online dictionary has this for the word "abroad":

First Known Use of abroad 14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2

and the word "bedlam"

First Known Use of bedlam 1522, in the meaning defined at sense 3

This is self-evident "proof" that the Merriam Webster online dictionary is not following historical order. Otherwise the oldest definition would be shown first in sense #1. Rather, the oldest definitions are appearing as the 2nd or 3rd item in the list.

Check the words "bedlam" and "abroad" in the other dictionaries. They also have that same most-common-definition at the number one position, rather than the earlier known use.

The archaic or original meaning follows later, if it appears at all.

So, for these online dictionaries:

  • Cambridge dictionary
  • Oxford dictionary
  • Merriam-Webster dictionary
  • Collins dictionary
  • Word web dictionary
  • wiktionary.org
  • dictionary.com

The ordering is not historical. Therefore, the evidence indicates a preference for frequency and common usage in determining the order.

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