The Best Cantonese Dictionaries
Not all dictionaries are created equal. When you’re learning a new language, you want to be sure that you’re getting useful information from the tools you’re using.
My name is Cole, and I have been learning Cantonese for 2 years, so I have used a lot of dictionaries. I have rounded up all the best ones, so you don’t have to do the work yourself!
In this post, I’ll be sharing the best web-based dictionaries and dictionary apps for Cantonese, so you don’t have to waste your time with the ones that aren’t so great.
Words.hk & CantoWords
This is the best Cantonese dictionary. It has it all: Written Cantonese monolingual definitions, English definitions, and a rich repertoire of example phrases and sentences, all with Jyutping readings, and English translations. It includes synonyms, antonyms, and useful labels for usage, style, and whether a term is Standard Written Chinese or not. The separation by part-of-speech and sense is extremely useful. Not only that, there is a beta sister site entirely in English called CantoWords that allows one to search English terms and get Cantonese results (though the search feature is still somewhat limited in its accuracy).
There’s only two downsides:
The dictionary is not yet complete, being that it is a crowdsourced project.
Of the more than 56 thousand entries, only 13k of them have been published, which means they are inaccessible without subscribing on Patreon.
However, at just 5 bucks a month, this is extremely worth it for serious learners, as the majority of entries are fairly complete or complete enough to still be quite helpful. I urge learners or those who want to support Cantonese to subscribe to the Patreon below.
If you are a native speaker and would like to contribute, you can do so here: https://words.hk/base/about/ under “想幫手”.
This dictionary, despite its age, is still quite usable and has a lot of good information. AND it’s free. There is information about whether a term is Standard Written Chinese or not, information regarding other phrases and synonyms, as well as example sentences for some of the more common words. All in all, it’s a great resource that is essentially a more dated, less comprehensive, and less accurate version of words.hk.
The Chinese Wiktionary is quite extensive, with even very obscure characters often having entries. There are even many entries that explain Cantonese usage and meaning of certain words with examples. One of the cool things about Wiktionary is the etymological information that it often provides.
A cool resource that is very useful for rarer characters and their readings. It will also show what Cantonese dictionaries the character appears in along with an explanation in Standard Written Chinese. The site is only available in Traditional Chinese, but with Google Translate it can be navigated just fine.
The first is simply the official app for words.hk.
The second is Pleco, a well-known Chinese dictionary manager app. This app has a ton of features. First and foremost, there are several Cantonese dictionaries available for download, including a version of words.hk that is several years old now. Secondly, it has great handwritten character recognition, so you can draw characters and pull them up quickly. Lastly, I’ll mention that there is a reader that you can use to read Chinese texts and look up words quickly. There are many other features as well.
(Chrome) Cantonese Popup Dictionary
(Firefox) Perapera Chinese Popup Dictionary
(Chrome) Mandarin + Cantonese Dictionary
Cantonese Popup Dictionary: This is the best free Cantonese popup dictionary for Chrome. Supports Jyutping and pulls entries from CEDICT. Works on hover.
Perapera Chinese Popup Dictionary: This is the best free Cantonese popup dictionary for Firefox. Supports Jyutping and pulls entries from CEDICT. Works on hover.
Migaku: A software suite for learning languages currently in beta. It has the best popup dictionary for Chrome, but is paid. It also has a ton of other features (and happens to be the best tool for learning Cantonese in general). The popup dictionary works by selecting text and pressing a hotkey. It also supports frequency lists, so you can see how rare or common a word is. The dictionaries available for it to use are an updated words.hk, CC-CEDICT, CC-Canto, Chinese Wiktionary, 漢語大字典, and MoeDict.
Mandarin + Cantonese Dictionary: Similar to Cantonese Popup Dictionary but has Mandarin support too.
Tatoeba: This is a sentence database website. It offers around 6k example sentences with English translations. This is such a small number of sentences that it really isn’t that useful of a resource. Many of the sentences also have mistakes. If you are trying to find example sentences, it is MUCH better to simply find them on words.hk by searching a word you want to find a sentence for.
Jyut Dictionary: This is a free, open-source, offline Chinese dictionary aggregator for Windows, Mac and Linux. You can search by character, English, and Jyutping. It offers entries from words.hk, CC-CEDICT, CC-Canto, Kaifangcidian, Unihan, 兩岸三地生活差異詞語編, and Tatoeba. It also has simplified character support.
As a side note, CC-Canto is not mentioned because that dictionary is very small and also of very low quality with lots of errors. If there are any big things I missed, I will add them to the list. The goal is to have a curated list of the best dictionary resources available.