The Lewis and Short dictionary seem ubiquitous in this site. I have yet to get used to use it, being Wiktionary my main source of reference. However, when reading in Wikipedia about the Oxford Latin Dictionary, I read:

Although Lewis and Short's Latin Dictionary was widely used in the English world by the end of the nineteenth century, its faults were widely felt among classicists.

The phrase has a reference to this 1899 article, which provides a one page commentary (not very precise and referencing other texts), followed by 15 pages of corrections for particular words. As such this is not very useful to gather a scope of what is not good in L&S. Also, the references are very old (more than a century!). I wonder if someone - perhaps well aware of such and more modern literature - can come up with a simple but effective list of shortcomings, to have in mind when using such dictionary for translations?

2 Answers 2


Lewis and Short was published in 1879 and of course knowledge of Latin has progressed since then. It has been superseded by the Oxford Latin Dictionary, to say nothing of the multi-volume Thesaurus Linguae Latinae of the Berlin Academy. But these books are protected by copyright and are not available on the internet.

What is L&S not good for? It is not good for etymologies, but as a basic guide to Latin vocabulary it is certainly serviceable.


This isn't really relevant to translation, but one thing that I would consider a fault in the L&S entries is the lack of a clear distinction between the marking of heavy syllables and long vowels (that is, vowels that are long "by nature", not just long "by position"). This particularly leads to difficulty with interpreting the meaning of a macron in L&S on a vowel before "j", "z", a mute + liquid cluster, and possibly in some cases before a single word-final consonant letter. For example, L&S use macrons in words like mājor and rūtrum, even though modern scholarly sources say that these words had short vowels.

The article "Vowel Quantity: Where your Dictionary is Wrong", by Johan Winge, mentions this as a shortcoming of the Lewis and Short dictionary:

Latin dictionaries, at least good ones, do their best to mark which vowels are long by means of macrons: āēīōū. However this is an area where many dictionaries (even such as L&S and OLD) not seldom are misleading, if not outright wrong.

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