Are there any tips/tricks for easily differentiating between Compendium, Encyclopaedia, and Almanac?

To give you an idea—the question goes like this: Which reference would you use to find the following information?

Some examples:

When Queen Elizabeth II was born.
(My Guess: Almanac, as in calendar)

How long the US Civil War lasted.
(My Guess: Encyclopaedia)

How long a kangaroo lives.
(My Guess: Encyclopaedia)

Who won the Football World Cup last time.
(My Guess: Compendium, as in collection of statistics)

Who invented the zero.
(My Guess: Encyclopaedia)

Who discovered Radium.
(My Guess: Encyclopaedia)

It's very confusing as to which reference each piece of information (above) falls into.

2 Answers 2


A compendium is a concise collection of knowledge pertaining to a single topic or theme. Wikipedia states that the Bible is a compendium as it is a collection of apostolic writings (the New Testament) and similar (the Old Testament). A book containing all of Newton's findings (or most of them anyway) would be a compendium.

An encyclopaedia is more extensive than a compendium. It does not slot itself to a particular subject. It provides very brief information on almost everything that one should know about. No encyclopaedia can be exhaustive and one can always argue on how it decides what people need to know about and what not. Encyclopaedia is more of a reference material than a compendium; a go-to source if you want to summarily know about something.

An almanac is more about date-based and time-based information. It consists of dates of events, festivals and information on weather, agricultural and marine times and so on.

So if you would like to know when spring season arrives in Zurich, you would want to refer to an almanac. If you want to know what an aubergine is, you would refer to an encyclopaedia. Or, if you like to know the findings of various geographical discoverers, a compendium based on the same would be better suited to your purpose.


In actual, real-world practice? (Note: this is a Western/US perspective.)

Compendium is archaic, not commonly used. If it were, it would be intended to sound quaint.

Almanac implies something which needs updating yearly. Things like weather, the environment, statistics, etc.

Encyclopedia is meant to contain general knowledge of all subjects, so all your questions should be in an encyclopedia. Your copy might not be up to date with the last World Cup, so you would refer to a Sports Almanac for such data.

Realistically, today the answer to all of the above would be Wikipedia. :)

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