Need a truly useful dictionary? Try TheSage

When you need to use a dictionary then the quickest solution is usually to head off online. There are plenty of excellent free services available, and if you’re just looking for a quick definition then they’ll probably do a very good job.

If you need more, though – more frequent lookups, better searching features, more options and control -- then there’s still a case for installing a dictionary application. And TheSage is the perfect example.

The program is extremely comprehensive, for instance, with 210,000+ definitions (and a thesaurus detailing 1,400,000 relationships between them). It’s free, and unrestricted. And installation is straightforward (there’s even a portable option, if you need it).

It won’t exactly take long to get started with TheSage, either. Enter a word in the box, click “LookUp” and you’ll get a definition right away. This will include a guide to how the word is pronounced (click this and you’ll hear it spoken out loud), and many of the definitions will also have examples showing you how they’re used.

Knowing how to spell the word you’re after is often a problem with dictionaries, of course, but TheSage provides multiple tools to help.

You can just give it a try with your best guess, and the program will intelligently suggest matches (type “dicshunary”, for instance, and it knows that “dictionary” is probably what you meant).

You can opt to “search as you type”, which is rather like flicking through the pages of a paper dictionary. So as you type each letter, TheSage will display what it thinks is the most likely match, and once you spot what you need then double-clicking it will bring up the definition.

And you can even use a variety of wildcard searches, very helpful if you’re confident of the spelling in all but one or two places.

Elsewhere, there’s another handy extra in the Anagram feature. Enter an appropriate word, click Anagram, and you’ll see a list of all the full and partial anagrams it can make.

And while all this happens locally, no need to be online, the program also recognizes that sometimes the web is the best place to go. So if you enter a word or phrase, and click “Go online”, within a few seconds the program’s internal browser will display tabs with results from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Google’s Define service, and a regular Google search.

If there’s a problem here it’s that TheSage tries perhaps too hard to hide most of its functionality. Launch the program and you’ll see only a few basic search options, for instance. To find the Web search you’ll have to spot a tiny arrow in the extreme left of the program window, click it, select “Other Searches”, and click the Internet icon. Which isn’t exactly obvious.

Take the time to explore everything it has to offer, though, and you’ll find TheSage is an excellent tool, one of the most capable dictionaries around (free or otherwise). And if online equivalents aren’t quite providing the power you need then you really should give the program a try.

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