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A bilingual dictionary will typically give you the closest equivalents of a word in Language A in Language B. This is sufficient most of the time, but for words that do not have direct equivalents in the second language, it can be misleading. So, I am looking for a bilingual dictionary that gives the full definition of a word in Language A in Language B.

For example, using French and English, here are some typical definitions that we might find in a bilingual dictionary:

  • Ape or monkey
    • English entry: Ape
    • French definition : Singe
    • English entry: Monkey
    • French definition : Singe
  • Owl
    • French entry: hibou
    • English entry: owl
    • French entry: chouette
    • English entry: owl

In contrast, I am looking for a bilingual dictionary that would have entries more like the following:

  • Ape or monkey
    • English entry: Ape
    • French definition : Singe qui n'a pas de queue (monkey with no tail)
    • English entry: Monkey
    • French definition : Singe, surtout l'un qui a une queue (comparer ape, singe sans queue) [Monkey, especially one that has a tail (compare ape, a monkey with no tail)]
  • Owl
    • French entry: chouette
    • English entry: barn owl, that is, an owl with rounded head with no tufts or "horns"
    • French entry: hibou
    • English entry: horned owl, that is, an owl with tufts on its head that look like horns

I know that my examples are all zoological, but I hope they show the idea of what I am looking for, even for non-zoological distinctions. Can anyone recommend a bilingual dictionary with this kind of explanation that goes beyond just giving equivalent words? In addition to English-French, I would also be interested in English-Spanish and French-Spanish dictionaries. But if such dictionaries exist in other language pairs, I would be interested in knowing of them as well.

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  • This is a learner's dictionary that offers explanations using very simple English words. Judging by the vocabulary you have used in your post, I believe you'll be able to understand these definitions. If you're doing this for someone else, I'd suggest teaching them these basic words first. – user3395 May 4 at 2:52
  • @userr2684291 I don't understand your response. I checked out its English-Spanish dictionary and it has exactly the kind of simple, one-word translations that I explained that I am NOT looking for. Is there a way to use that dictionary that would give me what I'm looking for? I can't clearly see such a way. – Ochado May 4 at 14:22
  • Have you not read what I wrote? I never said I have exactly what you want, and I proposed an alternative instead. Bilingual dictionaries are only useful when you're a complete beginner. After that you're best off using a monolingual dictionary, the exception being when you don't know how to translate something from your mother tongue to the target language. The type of dictionary you're looking for might even exist, but I don't see its use or know of any such dictionaries. It's unclear why you'd want such a thing, at any rate. – user3395 May 4 at 17:27
  • @userr2684291 I am a rather advanced second-language user of French, yet I continue to use both monolingual and bilingual dictionaries very frequently, almost daily. Each has their strengths, but my question addresses a missing gap I have found in both for some words. A monolingual English dictionary does not usually think to make some distinctions that exist in French, and vice versa. And bilingual dictionaries typically have the problem that I have described in my question. So, sorry, but your comment does not address my need. Thanks, though, for your consideration. – Ochado May 5 at 19:16
  • Although I am not an English-language learner myself, I am posting this question here because I hope that some learners might be aware of the existence of the kind of dictionary that I am looking for, if such a thing exists. – Ochado May 5 at 19:18
  • I'm not a native speaker of English and I don't know what you're really talking about. It's true that sometimes a dictionary has an unclear definition, in which case I simply look it up elsewhere (there are at least half a dozen good (monolingual) dictionaries online). However, I have another thing I use occasionally but for a different purpose: en.glosbe.com/en/fr – after looking something up scroll all the way down and you'll find actual translations (subtitles and the like). Sometimes they're bad, but they're often OK. You can find entire phrases if you use quotes when searching. – user3395 May 5 at 23:54
  • @userr2684291 If, for example, you look up singe (en.glosbe.com/fr/en/singe) and ape (en.glosbe.com/en/fr/ape) in Glosbe, you cannot find the distinctions that I made in my question. (However, the entry for monkey, en.glosbe.com/en/fr/monkey, excludes apes, but does not explain why or what the difference is.) My question is if a bilingual dictionary exists that takes the care to make these distinctions. – Ochado May 7 at 7:30
  • @userr2684291 If you like Glosbe, you might also be interested in Linguee (linguee.fr), which consists primarily of real-life translation examples. Based on Linguee, another great resource is DeepL Translator (deepl.com/translator), which is the best online translator I know of (much better than Google Translate), and is especially good for translating phrases and idioms. – Ochado May 7 at 7:33
  • Could you provide an example without resorting to animals and other similar things that are difficult to define in general? FWIW, collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english-french/ape translates ape as "(grand) singe", and monkey as just "singe". For all intents and purposes they're the same thing. If you're actually interested in the distinction perhaps you could look up the term grand singe in a French dictionary. The reason why it makes no sense (in my view) to define things in the way you want is because the dictionary assumes a good knowledge of the target language. – user3395 May 7 at 17:08
  • Ok, guys, allow me to step in here. I'm a French-to-English translator with 35 years of experience....First of all, there is no such thing as "equivalents" per se. There is only equivalent meaning. In order to find a semantic trait (that is the technical term) that makes certain terms not overlap in meaning in a language, you have to use a monolingual dictionary in the target (B) language. And by the way, lingee is full of horrible mistakes and "barbarismes" by clueless translators. – Lambie May 25 at 15:01
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    The difference in semantic traits or features can only be found by looking at monolingual dictionaries. There is no gap. What there is are differences in the language. That said, not everything is in a bilingual dictionary or even monolingual one.... – Lambie May 25 at 15:09

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