Wiktionary:English definitions

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Definitions are the core of any dictionary. Writing a definition is an unnatural act, differing from other kinds of writing. This is intended to assist in creating new definitions, for existing parts of speech sections in existing entries, additional parts of speech for existing entries, or for new entries. For improving existing definitions, see Wiktionary:Improving definitions.

Which headword?[edit]

Almost all definitions should be at a standardized form of the expression. This may not be the one that you think of or the one that is most natural or common. It may be quite unnatural. The standardized forms are intended to make it easier to know where the main content for an expression is to be found. Redirects and search are the main tools to help a user find terms if they are not in the forms a user is looking for. The standardized forms are lemmas.

Lemma forms[edit]

The lemma forms are the singular of a noun, the bare infinitive of a verb (or predicate), and the positive form of an adjective or adverb. Multi-word expressions are generally phrased in terms of the lemma forms of their components if such forms actually occur. For many idiomatic expressions, however, a common form that has at least some of the component terms in their lemma forms becomes the lemma.

Certain phrases need to be expressed with one or more terms represented in the lemma by placeholders words such as one, one's, oneself, someone or something. For example, hold one's breath is the lemma form for expressions like "hold my breath" and "holding his breath".


Few words are capitalized. Many are proper nouns, but some common nouns are capitalized as well as most abbreviations of proper nouns.

Helping users find lemma forms[edit]

If you have found that the entry you wanted to add was not readily found via search, consider adding a non-lemma entry that will help a user find the lemma entry. Six kinds are common.

  1. Inflected forms: Verbs and nouns in English have inflected forms that can easily be added by users clicking on red or green links for those forms on the inflection line of the lemma.
  2. Alternative forms: Adding alternative forms and spellings to an entry may help a user who enters one of those forms in the search box.
  3. Misspellings: Any common misspellings should be short entries. A true misspelling is not entered in the entry for which it is a misspelling.
  4. Usage examples: In many cases, a usage example should include a particularly common form of the expression. The search engine should find the entry with the usage example if it contains most of the important searched words that the user enters in the search box.
  5. Redirects: Generally redirects should be avoided in favour of the other types of links. They are strict to be avoided if the only purpose served is to accommodate alternative capitalization. There are many cases where redirects are the best available alternative
  6. "See" links: In some cases, a user may type a form that differs from the desired entry by punctuation, an apostrophe, or typography. In some of those cases, links appear at the top of the entry to spellings that differ in such a way. However, most often those links are to words in languages other than English that have diacritical marks on Latin alphabet characters.

Phrases and Idioms[edit]

The most complicated decisions about headwords are for phrases and idioms.


A definition in Wiktionary has a standard format that consists of a sense number, optional context labels, and the definition proper. It may be followed by usage examples or quotations. See Wiktionary:Entry layout explained for the overall structure of an entry.

Sense number[edit]

Definition wikitext begins with the character #. The wiki software automatically generates sense number from that character. Occasional problems in the numbering result from disrupting the proper sequence. See WT:ELE.

Context tags[edit]

Context tags are labels intended to provide important basic grammatical information and information about the broad type of situation in which the sense is used.

Grammatical information[edit]



Specialized terms[edit]


Our format rules allow two basic formats.


Under specific circumstances there may be other material on a sense line. In some cases there may be a "See" link to another entry. There may be other material, sometimes appearing as part of an experiment.

See links[edit]

Normally "See" links are not necessary. The wiki software makes wikilinks easy to incorporate into the body of a definition. See links exist to provide another way for users to find the entry that has Wiktionary's best content for what they are looking for. Two examples of their constructive use are certain plural senses of nouns and for phrasal verbs.

Plural senses of nouns[edit]

Entries often provide links from the singular form of a noun to distinct senses of the noun that are presented fully at the plural forms of the noun.

Phrasal verbs[edit]


One experimental use is the presentation of date information at the end of a definition line. The date information indicated more specifically than context tags when the headword was used in the sense provided.

Parts of speech[edit]

Some parts of speech have characteristic types of definitions and types of problems.