Difference Between Encyclopedia and Dictionary

Encyclopedia vs Dictionary

Encyclopedia and Dictionary are two words that are often confused when it comes to their usage and meanings. Encyclopedia is an information bank. On the other hand, a dictionary is a lexicon that contains meanings and possibly, usages of words. This is the main difference between Encyclopedia and dictionary.

What is an Encyclopedia?

An Encyclopedia is a collection of information about various topics under the sun. The topics and subjects include arts, history, geography, civics, politics, geology, zoology, physics, chemistry, mathematics, numismatics and the other related subjects. Focusing more on providing knowledge and information to the user, an Encyclopedia is a great reference book for researchers of almost any subject. An Encyclopedia is usually a series of books, each focused upon a particular branch of knowledge. Each volume is divided into articles listed alphabetically by article name. These articles are long and descriptive, providing a summary of information about the subject matter at hand. Having been existing or over 2200 years, the oldest Encyclopedia is said to be the Naturalis Historia which was written in AD 77 by Pliny the Elder.

Difference Between Encyclopedia and Dictionary

What is a Dictionary?

A dictionary is a compilation of words and their meanings that can be used by the student or researchers to know the exact meanings and the usage of different words. Dictionaries can exist in one or more specific languages in which words are listed alphabetically along with usage information, etymologies, definitions, pronunciations, phonetics and other information such as lexicon. According to Nielson, a dictionary can be characterized by three features.


1. A dictionary has been prepared for one or more functions

2. The data that it contains have been selected and included for fulfilling those functions

3. The lexicographic structures of the dictionary establish relationships between the data so that they fulfil the functions of the dictionary, thereby meeting the needs of users

What is the difference between Encyclopedia and Dictionary?

• Encyclopedia is more concerned with general knowledge. On the other hand, dictionary is not concerned that much with general knowledge and functions primarily as a writer’s tool and provides the meaning and pronunciation of certain words.

• A dictionary focuses upon the grammatical structure of language. An Encyclopedia does not focus on language at all.

• The compilation of an Encyclopedia takes a long time. On the other hand, the compilation of a dictionary does not take a long time. In fact, more and more words can be added to the dictionary in future editions.

• Dictionaries do not come in many volumes. Their words belonging to all subject areas are listed in alphabetical order and come in one comprehensive volume. Encyclopaedias come in many volumes, sometimes each volume is dedicated to a certain subject matter.

• An entry in an Encyclopedia is long and descriptive. An entry in the dictionary is usually very short.

• An Encyclopedia is a general, broad and informative book. It is not classified as dictionaries. Dictionaries can be classified as general purpose and specialized purpose.


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Further Reading:

  1. Difference Between Dictionary and Thesaurus
  2. Difference Between Dictionary and Glossary
  3. Difference Between Dictionary and Hashtable