Wiktionary:Style guide

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Policies and guidelines Style guide
This style guide seeks to outline Wiktionary's stylistic conventions. It is not a formal policy, nor is it trying to become one. Please see Wiktionary:Entry layout for the official policy governing entry layout.

Note that like all pages on a wiki, this style guide is very much a work in progress. Please feel free to expand and revise it.

The Style Guide's principal function is to make the dictionary consistent, no matter how many editors are on the team or how long the dictionary takes to compile.

—Sue Atkins & Michael Rundell, Oxford Guide to Practical Lexicography, pp. 390-391


The style guide presents widely supported standards, but it is not a set of rigid rules. You may experiment with deviations, but other editors may find those deviations unacceptable, and revert those changes. They have just as much right to do that as you have to make them. Be ready to discuss those changes; if you want your way accepted, you have to make the case for that. Unless there is a good reason for deviating, the existing practice should be presumed correct.

Related policies and style guidelines

General considerations

In general, Wiktionary favors a minimalistic approach. Entries should not be more complex than necessary. Content should not be added unless it adds value for some identifiable group of users. Avoiding unnecessary clutter and complication aids in the portability of our data, and helps to ensure that our entries will be usable to as wide a community of users as possible.

For the same reasons, it is expected that entries will maintain as high a level of consistency as is possible to do while still respecting the complexity of the lexicon.

Varieties of English

Preferred English spelling and usage varies widely from one country to another. As an international dictionary, Wiktionary does not privilege one variety over another. However, it is expected that an entry should be internally consistent – generally favoring either Australian, British, Canadian, US, or some other standard usage – and that entries should not be edited for the sole purpose of changing from one language variant to another.


Quotation marks

  • Wiktionary favors the use of double quotation marks (" " or “ ”) rather than single ones (' ' or ‘ ’). Single quotes are normally used only when one quotation is enclosed within another.
  • There is currently no consensus regarding whether to use plumb quotes (" ", ' ') and apostrophes (') or typographical quotes (“ ”, ‘ ’) and apostrophes ().[1]
  • Wiktionary usage places any terminal punctuation outside the quotation marks, unless it is actually part of the quote.


Parentheses should be used in definitions only for the purpose of identifying the selectional restrictions of the headword in the current sense:

  1. To lead (a group)
    Jones here will head the team.

Any other direct uses of parentheses should be avoided. The only parentheses used outside of definitions should be those generated by special-purpose templates such as {{m}}/{{mention}}, {{lb}}/{{label}}, and {{q}}/{{qualifier}} (see below).


Authorities and preferences differ over the appropriateness of the serial comma. Use {{,}} in place of a literal comma before the last element in a list to allow users to decide whether to show or hide this punctuation.

red, white{{,}} and blue → red, white, and blue

En dashes

A discussion exclusively regarding whether entries with en dashes () in titles should be created has yet to occur, but there seems to be no consensus.[2] Entries have been created by multiple users, some as alternative forms of entries using hyphens (e.g., Wade–Giles).


Adding italics to the headword if that is the only form used seems to be supported (e.g., “Palko test”). If there is more than one form (e.g., “Zelda-like” or “Zelda-like”), there is no consensus regarding whether the form with the italics should be included.[2]

Per consensus (80% support) italics should be used in labels and usage examples, which are themselves in italics, for titles of works that are usually italicized (e.g., “(Cuphead fandom slang)” should be “(Cuphead fandom slang)”). This results in italics within italics, i.e., the title of the work being in roman (normal) type.[3]

Styling templates

Wiktionary has a number of templates used to style explanatory text. These templates are intended to convey semantic rather than purely stylistic information, and should be used instead of raw styling with italics, parentheses, and such. Doing so allows the user to control the styling through preferences and CSS declarations (see also WT:CSS). The following is a short guide to their usage. When there is a separate short and long form, the short form is normally preferred for purposes of conciseness.

Short form Long form Examples Usage
{{a}} {{accent}} (text) Used to label accents in pronunciation sections, goes before the pronunciation.
{{s}} {{sense}} (text): Used to label senses in synonyms and other semantic relations sections, usage notes sections, and citations pages, preceding the content.
{{lb}} {{label}} (text) Used to attach context labels like "metallurgy" or "physics" or "obsolete" and short grammar notes (such as concerning transitivity, countability, number, agreement, and complements) to definitions; potentially adds the page to a category, goes before the definition.
{{tlb}} {{term-label}} (text) Used to place a label directly after the headword, when the label applies to the term and not to one of its definitions.
{{gl}} {{gloss}} (text) Used to gloss a definition by redefining it in different words, especially to disambiguate an English defining word with many definitions, goes after the definition.
{{n-g}}, {{ngd}} {{non-gloss definition}} text Similar to a gloss but for non-gloss explanatory text that instead of a definition, often to explain the usage of grammatical particles and other function words.
{{q}}, {{i}} {{qualifier}} (text) Miscellaneous explanatory text (register, variety etc.)

The following templates are used to style links to other terms that are mentioned in a page. They should always be used for links to foreign-language terms, in place of raw links, and in most cases will automatically include a transliteration of the term if it is in a foreign script. As above, the short forms are preferred for conciseness.

Short form Long form Examples Usage
{{m}} {{mention}} text
текст (tekst)
نَصّ (naṣṣ)
Used to mention terms used in running text, as in usage notes, etymology sections and definitions.
{{l}} {{link}} text
текст (tekst)
نَصّ (naṣṣ)
Used to mention terms used in lists (e.g. synonyms, related terms, see also, etc.).


Definitions should be concise. Only in rare cases should a definition consist of more than one sentence or sentence fragment.

Types of definitions

Most definitions on Wiktionary are either full definitions or glosses. Full definitions, which are preferred for English terms, explain the meaning of a particular sense in detail. Glosses, which are preferred for non-English terms, simply point the user to one or more English translations of the term.

A full definition should start with a capital letter. Because a definition is not normally a complete sentence, opinions vary on whether it is necessary to end a full definition with a period. However, in the current editing practice most definitions end with a period.

A simple gloss should not be capitalized and should not end with a period.

Example of a gloss:

Katze: cat

Example of a definition:

cat: A domesticated species (Felis silvestris) of feline animal, commonly kept as a house pet.

For defining non-English words, glosses are strongly preferred. In general, a full definition should be provided only where a foreign-language term has no satisfactory English equivalent.

For English words, full definitions are strongly preferred, although a vote for English terms to start with a capital and end with a full stop ended in no consensus.[4] Even in the rare case of true synonymy, a gloss for an English term should be formatted as a definition:

# [[cat|Cat]]

A definition should provide sufficient information for the user to both understand and use the word correctly. However, where the considerations surrounding use are more complex than can be summarized in a single sentence, they should be moved to a usage note.

In addition to the above types of definitions, some terms, such as function words, cannot be adequately defined in either of the above ways. The definitions used in this case are termed “non-gloss definitions”. To provide stylistic differentiation of these definitions, enclose them inside {{non-gloss definition}} or its shorter form {{n-g}}. Example:

because : {{n-g|Used to terminate inquiry concerning origin or purpose, typically initiated by ''[[why]]''.}}
because : Used to terminate inquiry concerning origin or purpose, typically initiated by why.

Words in definitions

The use of technical and obscure words in definitions should be kept to an absolute minimum. For senses that are not labeled as technical, it is preferred to use words from the lexical core, such as is defined in the General Service List and Academic Word List. When it is necessary or useful to use less common words, these should always be wikified.


General patterns

Definitions may be written according to either a prototype pattern or a genus-species pattern. In either case, the key information should be placed as close to the beginning of the definition as grammar and elegance permit. Formatting the entry in this way will assist casual users in quickly locating the information they need.


Definitions of verbs should begin with “to”.

  1. To walk like an Egyptian.

Definitions of nouns should begin with a definite or indefinite article. Usually an uncountable sense will take a definite article, while a countable sense will usually take an indefinite article.

Gerundial nouns

Avoiding circularity can be difficult in defining gerundial nouns. It is tempting to define departing as:

  1. An occasion on which departing occurs.

But this is likely to frustrate the user who does not realize the link leads to a separate entry, or who is using a non-wikified mirror. It is better to define it explicitly in terms of the verb, using a different form:

  1. An occasion on which someone or something departs.
    After all of the day's arrivings and departings, we were quite exhausted.

Some older dictionaries that have been imported into Wiktionary use a style of adjective definition that begins “That”:

  1. That has a yellow color.

However, a more concise construction is better:

  1. Having a yellow color.

There is a large class of adjectives that have been traditionally defined by the phrase “of or pertaining to X”. Because the word pertain is not in wide use in contemporary English, it is better to use “related”.

lexicographical: Of or relating to lexicography, the writing of dictionaries.
Adjectives in -like

In most cases, these can be defined in terms of the possible.

  1. Resembling a cat.
    There was a large, catlike animal moving across the plain.

If the term has a particularly strong association, a two-stroke definition should be used:

  1. Resembling a cat, especially in regard to motion.
    She moved with catlike grace.
    There was a large, catlike animal moving across the plain.
Adverbs in -ly

When defining adverbs of this type, it is important to keep in mind that -ly can have a number of different significations. It often means “in an X manner”, but it can also mean “so as to become or appear X” or, especially in technical contexts, “due to X factors”. Be sure to review actual use before writing a definition. Because these are distinct senses of -ly, they also merit distinct senses for those adverbs for which they can be attested.

  1. In a yellowish way.
    Her eyes were yellowishly green.
  2. So as to become or appear yellowish.
    He tinted the glass yellowishly.

Entries for affixes (prefixes, suffixes, etc.) should provide a brief gloss or definition. Where more detailed treatment is required, one or more Usage notes should be provided, with appropriate examples. Example: -icus

Definition sequence

Most users will glance only at the first few definitions in a long entry, rather than searching through all definitions to find the best match. For this reason, it is important that the most common senses of a term be placed first, even when this may be contrary to the logical or historical sequence.

For complex entries, the use of subsenses is encouraged. In this case the hierarchy is defined logically – core sense at the root – but again, the most salient subsenses should be placed first in line.

Right-hand side

Most content elements should be in the main (center) section of the page. This includes even small items such as small conjugation tables. Accepted items that may appear on the right-hand side:

  • Navigation templates (e.g., {{ordinalbox}})
  • Images
  • Example boxes with {{examples}}
  • Sister project boxes (e.g., {{wikipedia}}, now often listed under “Further reading” with {{pedia}} instead)

When possible the width of right-hand side elements should be uniform so as to provide a “virtual” right-hand side column.


Entries in references should be enclosed within quotation marks, even if linked (e.g., term” in Source identification), per consensus (75% support). There is no consensus regarding adding a full stop or period at the end (≈57% support against).[5]


If a language has many table templates of a certain type, such as to show conjugations, then the templates should be structured such that one or a few templates are responsible for formatting and showing the content in a neat way, while the others generate the actual contents. For example, while there are many French conjugation table templates, they all use the same style template. This practice helps in keeping the display of templates consistent, and also makes it easier to create new versions of a template (for a different inflectional pattern, for example) without copying all the formatting as well. In programming jargon, this is called “separating the interface from the implementation”.

Templates that contain tables whose width is specified as a percent should have those tables wrapped in <div> tags to avoid interfering with right-hand side elements. This is how the table templates such as {{top2}} and {{bottom}} are constructed.


The two most common year-numbering systems are Anno Domini (“BC”, “AD”) and Common Era (“BCE”, “CE”). To provide both wikitext standardization and viewer customization, use {{BC}}/{{BCE}} and {{AD}}/{{CE}} to mark the correct eras. They should be placed after their respective dates. Viewers that wish to view pages using the Anno Domini system can do so by selecting the appropriate preference (this will also convert “AD” to being before dates).


Wiktionary is not paper and therefore not encumbered by traditional size restraints. In general we use full English terms rather than abbreviations or unnaturalized foreign terms. Following this, cf should be expanded to compare (rather than confer) and q.v. should be expanded to see (rather than quo vide). The names of parts of speech are also written in full, so we always write noun and adjective and never n or adj. Exceptions are made for those that are universal such as gender abbreviations (f. for feminine) and common quotation abbreviations (c. for circa).