Get Dictionary Definitions From Anywhere in Mac OS X with Spotlight

May 14, 2012 - 5 Comments

Instant dictionary from Spotlight in Mac OS X

While you can immediately access a dictionary definition by three-finger tapping on a single word in Mac OS X or double-tapping in iOS, the Mac also provides another instant dictionary option: Spotlight.

Yup, the good old Spotlight desktop file search also doubles as a full fledged dictionary access point, this is perfect for when you quickly want the definition of a word that is either in your head or just not written on the screen to access from the tap method.

How to Get Dictionary Definitions from Spotlight on Mac

To use the Spotlight dictionary for a quick lookup of a word from anywhere in Mac OS X, just do the following:

  1. Hit Command+Spacebar to bring up Spotlight
  2. Type the word you want to define and it will show up in the Spotlight search results labeled as “Look Up”
  3. Hover over the word to see a Quick Look window including the definition
  4. Hit Return to

If you click on the word or hit the Return key you will launch the Dictionary app with the definition, though that isn’t necessary as the hover option is very fast.

spotlight dictionary

This isn’t just for modern versions of MacOS however, and this feature exists in everything from macOS Ventura to Big Sur, Monterey, Mavericks, Yosemite, Lion and Mountain Lion, all the way back to Mac OS X Snow Leopard, though the nicer Quick Look hover option doesn’t exist and instead you’ll see an older style popup.


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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS, Tips & Tricks


» Comments RSS Feed

  1. cassiofm says:

    Is there a way to make dictionary results be the first on the list on spotlight? It used to be like that but they removed it. There is no way to do it at the system preferences

  2. Gary says:

    Great and useful tip!


  3. Dean says:

    Hi there,

    Just another helpful tip – you can also highlight a word on a website or in an Apple software and press Command/Control/D, this will give you the definition on screen.


  4. Romney says:

    Wikipedia works too.

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