We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What are Guide Words?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 23, 2024
Our promise to you
Language & Humanities is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At Language & Humanities, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Guide words are some of the most helpful tools in navigating the dictionary. Also found in things like indexes, phone books, or reference manuals, they can help narrow down search so that people can determine if they’re on the right page, or if they need to progress forward or back. These determinations really quicken searching, and though many people now rely on things like the Internet for definitions, the day may come when the power is out or when people have to pick up a reference book for other reasons. Fortunately, guide words are still utilized to help make this process easier.

A very simple definition of guide words is that they list the first word on a page, and the last word on a page. Sometimes the arrangement is a little different. An open dictionary could have a word written in bold on the left page, and one written in bold at the right corner of the right page. This would mean the right side word was the last word of the two dictionary pages.

A lot of dictionaries use a slightly different practice. They list two words on each page, which might be separated by a dot or hyphen, and these words are usually in bold. Sometimes the words are separate by the whole page and there will be one bold word at the top left, and the top right. No matter how arranged, when there are two words on the page, the first word is the first definition found at the top of that page and the second word is the definition word found at the very bottom of that page. It may be helpful to remember the following:

First word equals first listing and definition and last word equals last listing and definition.

When the dictionary is open in the middle, people might read four words across two pages and this can immediately help them decide if they’ll find the definition they need on those two pages. It may only be necessary to read the first word on the first page and the last word on the second page, though sometimes people will have arrived at the right page and need to search in the middle.

In addition to dictionary guide words, many larger dictionaries have some helpful tools for finding a word quickly. A number of these reference books have tabs or thumb tabs that list letters of the alphabet. This helps people get open to the alphabetic section they need.

Since there has been such a trend toward things like Internet searching fewer people may be familiar with guide words. Yet it’s always a good idea to know how to use these and to hone alphabetizing skills. If the subject isn’t taught in school, young readers can be taught this at home given a good dictionary. It’s easy to make up games where parents can ask kids to look up a word and read the definition. Choosing some silly words can make this very fun, and it teaches an important skill that may be yet be quite useful.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By googie98 — On Oct 03, 2010

@calabama71: Very nice and easy-to-understand example!

By calabama71 — On Oct 03, 2010

@dill1971: I hope I can provide you with an example that you can understand here. At the top of every dictionary page is a guide word. As the article stated, the word in the left corner is the first entry on the page. The word in the right corner is the last entry on the page.

Here is an example. Say you wanted to look up the word “compare”. First, you would turn to the “c” section of the dictionary. The first page you turn to, the left guide word might be “camp” and the right guide word might be “coat”. You would automatically know that the word “compare” is not on that page because it comes after the word “coat”.

You would then continue to look at the next pages and find the guide word that the word “compare” fits in with. You might find a left guide word of “company” and a right guide word of “computer”. You would know that your word, “compare” is on this page because it falls in between “company” and “computer”.

By dill1971 — On Oct 03, 2010

I understand what you are saying the definition is but can you give me an example of using guide words?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor,...
Learn more
Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.