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How to Cite a Dictionary in APA Style

Dictionaries are common references in academic writing. Citing dictionaries in APA style depends on whether they are print or online sources. Key elements include the dictionary name, publication year, entry word, publisher, and URL for online versions. These details apply to both in-text citations and reference list entries. Proper citation ensures accurate attribution and allows readers to locate the source.

Guide to Citing a Print Dictionary

The process of citing print dictionaries involves several steps that require careful attention to detail to ensure every element of the citation is correctly formatted. 

Finding the necessary information for citation

To effectively cite a print dictionary, locate the entry word, definition, edition (if not the first), year of publication, and publisher’s information from the dictionary itself. 

Example of a print dictionary citation in APA format

An example citation might look like this:

“Quixotic.” (2014). In The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

How to Cite an Online Dictionary in APA Style

Citing online dictionaries requires additional details specific to digital publications, including the URL and the date the definition was accessed. 

Differences between citing print and online dictionaries

The key difference in citing online resources is the inclusion of the date of access and the direct URL, reflecting the dynamic nature of online content which can be updated frequently. 

Online dictionary citation examples

For instance, citing an online source might look like:

“Ephemeral.” (n.d.). In Oxford English Dictionary Online. Retrieved March 22, 2022, from

Examples and Variations in Dictionary Citations

Citing dictionaries can vary based on several factors, including the edition, the absence of an author, or the nature of the dictionary itself (e.g., specialized or multivolume). 

How to handle multiple editions and years

When dictionaries are published in multiple editions, specify the edition number followed by the year of publication if it is known, to differentiate it from other versions. 

Citations for dictionaries with no author or editor

For dictionaries without a listed author or editor, the entry word is used as the title, followed by the year, the title of the dictionary in italics, and the publisher. 

Troubleshooting Common Issues in Dictionary Citations

Common problems in citing dictionaries often involve electronic sources and specialized publications, requiring specific adjustments to standard citation practices. 

Dealing with sources without page numbers

Since dictionaries typically do not include page numbers for individual entries, these are omitted in the citation, focusing instead on the entry word and the dictionary title. 

How to cite specialized dictionaries and glossaries

When citing a specialized dictionary or glossary, include the nature of the source in the citation, indicating its specific focus or discipline. 


What is the primary reason to cite a dictionary in an academic paper?

Citing a dictionary helps clarify the definitions of terms used in your paper, ensuring that readers understand them as intended. This practice supports the precision and integrity of your academic arguments.

How do I cite a dictionary entry without an author in APA style?

If a dictionary entry lacks an author, start with the term you are citing, followed by the publication year in parentheses, the title of the dictionary in italics, and the publisher’s information. For online dictionaries, include the URL and the date you accessed the entry.

Can I omit the URL when citing an online dictionary in APA style?

No, when citing an online dictionary, the URL is crucial as it guides readers directly to the source. Additionally, since online content can change, including the access date is also recommended to indicate when the information was last verified.

What should I do if the dictionary I am citing has multiple editions?

When a dictionary has been published in multiple editions, specify the edition number in your citation. This detail helps differentiate between changes or updates that might appear in newer editions and ensures that readers can find the exact source you used.


APA citations for dictionaries include the dictionary name, publication year, entry word, and publisher. For online dictionaries, add the retrieval date and URL. Use the dictionary name and year for in-text citations. Create a full entry in your reference list.

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