Help me find a hulking French-English dictionary
January 26, 2013 5:20 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for the biggest, most complete French-English dictionary available in one volume. I'm aware of Le Petit Robert, but I need French-English, not French-French. The biggest I've found so far is the Collins-Robert, but that can't be the biggest.

Any recommendations? Note that this can't be an online resource. Thanks.
posted by gnossie to Human Relations (12 answers total)
French is my mother tongue and Robert-Collins looks to me like the better choice. I've not heard of bigger dictionaries. Are you looking for dictionaries that cover a precise area of vocabulary or a general purpose one ?

If it helps there are three french dictionary publisher/brand : Larousse (more illustrated/encyclopedy style), Robert (no picture only words) and Littré.
posted by Baud at 5:29 AM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thanks, Baud.

I'm reading my way through a lot of Stendhal, Proust, Hugo, etc. So ideally the dictionary has to be better at classic French literature than contemporary French.
posted by gnossie at 5:34 AM on January 26, 2013

Ditto with the Robert and Collins. When I had to make that choice, I selected a few rare words (including some very naughty ones), went into a bookstore and choose the dictionary that 1) had those words and 2) seemed to offer the best translations.
posted by elgilito at 6:27 AM on January 26, 2013

In the long run it's likely that a good French-French dictionary will serve you better?
My point is that concepts are not constant across languages and so are not entirely translatable. That has been my experience as a non native English speaker, anyway. You start out with a cross-language dictionary, but you really get rolling when you switch to a good one-language one. More immersion that way too.
Just my .02 EUR.
posted by Thug at 6:53 AM on January 26, 2013

There's the standard Collins-Robert single-volume dictionary, which I guess is what you're talking about - you don't quite make that clear.

There is a bigger Collins-Robert, which is in two volumes, one FR>EN and the other EN>FR. It's called the Super Senior in France, but I can't quite remember what it's sold as in English. You could buy just the French-English volume, which is probably the most comprehensive such dictionary available at the moment. My edition dates from about 1996 though so I'm not sure what's available now. I found this on Amazon.
posted by altolinguistic at 7:06 AM on January 26, 2013

Yes. Currently I use the Collins-Robert two-volume job, which I bought in Europe. One volume is French-English; the other is English-French.

But to tell you the truth, even this is routinely outclassed by the French version of Wiktionary. And, increasingly, by, which used to be crud but isn't anymore.

But I need a single volume.
posted by gnossie at 7:12 AM on January 26, 2013

It's likely that Robert-Collins is the largest available. Its only competitor that I'm aware of, as far as size goes, is Harrap's.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 7:57 AM on January 26, 2013

I got a Harrap's. It's a big single volume, both French to English and English to French. I really like it. It's very good for giving definitions of idiomatic phrases that use a given word, ones where you couldn't figure out the overall meaning (e.g. "en vouloir").

It is Modern French, so I don't know how that affects its usefulness for 19th century literature.

I've had the experience Thug describes switching to a purely French dictionary. I've just got a Robert MicroPoche (I think it's this one), but I feel like I'm much more immersed in the language, instead of switching back and forth between English and French. Sometimes I have to resort to the Harrap's, but the Robert is where I go first. Mind you, I'm not reading for school, I'm just reading to try to improve my French, so I can decide to skip a sentence here and there if I just can't figure it out.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:52 AM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thirding the suggestion to get a French-only dictionary.

A couple of years ago I was reading my way through Pagnol and the only dictionaries that had all the trees, bushes and agricultural terms with which he strews each page were French-only.
posted by winna at 8:55 AM on January 26, 2013

I use the 1993 edition of the Larousse Unabridged French-English/English-French Dictionary, which weighs seven and a half pounds; I see they've got the weight down to slightly under seven pounds (if the Amazon page is accurate), but I'm sure it's still as unabridged as ever (and still good for upper-body strength). I don't use it often, but when my other dictionaries fail, it comes through, and I've never regretted the money I spent on it.

(Note to those suggesting a French-only dictionary: you are not answering the question.)
posted by languagehat at 10:35 AM on January 26, 2013

The Collins-Robert is about as big as you can safely/robustly/economically bind a single volume dictionary. From the sixth edition, it was heavily corpus-based, so focuses on contemporary usage.

(as a former member of the editorial computing team, I'd really like to apologize for the headwords in CR6 being set in Kabel. It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time.)
posted by scruss at 2:45 PM on January 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Right, sorry I recommended something you already have - I was doing the best I could from the information you provided.

Once you've read quite a lot of this classic literature you'll probably find that your knowledge extends beyond the dictionary's scope - this is entirely normal. If you are sure that a word in a certain context has a meaning that you don't find in the dictionary, then you're probably right.
posted by altolinguistic at 4:08 AM on January 28, 2013

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