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    #1

    looking up the dictionary

    Many people say 'looking up a/the dictionary' is a wrong expression. But I came across it and feel puzzled:

    Perhaps it is (an exciting story), but it's too difficult for me. I spend more time looking up the dictionary than reading the book.

    This sentence is taken from L. G. Alexander's NEW CONCEPT ENGLISH 2 - PRACTICE AND PROGRESS, UNIT 2 TEST PAPER - SPECIAL DIFFICULTIES.

    Could we use this expression at all?

    Could I ask native English speakers to help clarify this problem? Thank you in advance.

  1. Soup's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: looking up the dictionary

    It's the first time that I've come across that phrase in my dialect. It's unfamiliar to me, but I wouldn't go so far as to say that it's ungrammatical as it seems to be short for looking up the dictionary definition.

  2. Raymott's Avatar
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    #3

    Re: looking up the dictionary

    Quote Originally Posted by joham View Post
    Many people say 'looking up a/the dictionary' is a wrong expression. But I came across it and feel puzzled:

    Perhaps it is (an exciting story), but it's too difficult for me. I spend more time looking up the dictionary than reading the book.

    This sentence is taken from L. G. Alexander's NEW CONCEPT ENGLISH 2 - PRACTICE AND PROGRESS, UNIT 2 TEST PAPER - SPECIAL DIFFICULTIES.

    Could we use this expression at all?

    Could I ask native English speakers to help clarify this problem? Thank you in advance.
    This is the normal way of saying it where I come from.
    What's the preferred alternative?
    "Look it up in a dictionary"? "Look in a dictionary"? "consult a dictionary"?

  3. stuartnz's Avatar
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    #4

    Re: looking up the dictionary

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymott View Post
    This is the normal way of saying it where I come from.
    Maybe it's an Antipodean thing, because I agree with the poster from the giant penal colony to the west of me. That phrase would be completely standard here in NZ, too.

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    #5

    Re: looking up the dictionary

    looking up the dictionary
    'Look' is a transitive verb.
    'Look up something in the dictionary' probably sounds better.

    not a teacher

  4. Soup's Avatar
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    #6

    Re: looking up the dictionary

    Quote Originally Posted by tedtmc View Post
    'Look' is a transitive verb.
    'Look up something in the dictionary' probably sounds better.

    not a teacher
    Sounds better to you, yes, but you could consider dialect variation here.

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    #7

    Re: looking up the dictionary

    Not just sounds better, transitive verb should be followed by an object, no?

  5. Soup's Avatar
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    #8

    Re: looking up the dictionary

    Quote Originally Posted by tedtmc View Post
    Not just sounds better, transitive verb should be followed by an object, no?
    Dialect variation is the operative phrase here.

  6. Raymott's Avatar
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    #9

    Re: looking up the dictionary

    Quote Originally Posted by tedtmc View Post
    Not just sounds better, transitive verb should be followed by an object, no?
    A transitive verb takes an object, that's true. But "look" is intransitive.
    Look up any dictionary.
    This allows us to say "look up someone's address, phone number". In any case, "look up" is possibly a phrasal verb.
    Here, we can either look up the dictionary, or look up a word in the dictionary.
    We can look up a friend's telephone number in the White Pages.
    Sometimes, if we want to see the stars, and it's night time, we can go outside and simply look up.

    PS: I'm still interesting in knowing what people elsewhere in the world do with a dictionary.

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    #10

    Re: looking up the dictionary

    Hello, everyone.
    I'm also interested in this topic, so please allow me to say a few words about it.

    Well, as for 'look up', I feel 'look up something in a dictionary' or 'look something up in a dictionary' sounds better to me as well, as tedtmc suggests. 'consult a dictionary', which Raymot gave us as a 'preferred alternative', is OK to me, too. The reason that I feel them quite natural is...they are the only options that I was taught here in Japan. I've never actually seen or heard 'look up a dictionary'.
    However, giving it a second thought, it may well work to say 'look up a dictionary definition', as Soup suggests, or 'look up a dictionary for the meaning(definition) of X'. The words in bold are 'understood' during conversations, I imagine.

    May I ask what 'dialect variation' means?
    Could it mean...'regional difference (in the usage of a language)'?
    Is it a technical terminology in linguistics?

    Thank you in advance!

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