Reverse dictionary

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A reverse dictionary is a dictionary organized in a non-standard order (usually referring to being in a so-called "reverse" order) that provides the user with information that would be difficult to obtain from a traditionally alphabetized dictionary. There are two principal types of reverse dictionaries: reverse word dictionaries, and reverse concept dictionaries (conceptual dictionary). This article discusses reverse word dictionaries; see conceptual dictionary for reverse concept dictionaries.

Reverse dictionaries were historically difficult to produce before the advent of the electronic computer, but have become more common since 1974, when the first computer sorted reverse dictionary was published: Stahl and Scavnicky's A Reverse Dictionary of the Spanish Language.[1]


The reverse word dictionary is a dictionary where the word entries in the dictionary are not alphabetized in the same manner as traditional dictionary. For example, A Reverse Dictionary of the Spanish Language[1] and Walker's Rhyming Dictionary[2] are reverse dictionaries, the organization of which is based upon sorting each entry word upon its last letter and the subsequent letters proceeding toward the beginning of that word. Consequently, in these reverse dictionaries all words that have the same suffix appear in order in the dictionary. Such a reverse dictionary would be useful for linguists and poets who might be looking for words ending with a particular suffix, or by an anthropologist or forensics specialist examining a damaged text (e.g. a stone inscription, or a burned document) that had only the final portion of a particular word preserved. Reverse dictionaries of this type have been published for most major alphabetical languages (see numerous examples listed below). By way of contrast, in a standard dictionary words are organized such that words with the same prefix appear in order, since the sorting order is starting with the first letter of the entry word and subsequent letters proceeding toward the end of that word.


Applications of reverse word dictionaries include:

  • Simple rhyme dictionaries, to the extent that spelling predicts pronunciation.
  • Finding words with a given suffix (i.e., meaningful ending), like -ment.
  • Finding words with the same ending as a given word, even if the sequence is not meaningful.
  • Setting or solving word puzzles, such as -gry or the earlier -dous puzzle (find words ending in some way), or crossword puzzles.


Reverse word dictionaries are straightforward to construct, by simply sorting based on reversed words. This was labor-intensive and tedious before the advent of electronic computers, but is now straightforward. For example, using Perl and sort allows the following one-liner program to produce a reverse dictionary of the file "dict":

< dict \
    perl -nle 'print scalar reverse $_' |\
    sort |\
    perl -nle 'print scalar reverse $_'

Some sort utilities can sort on a reversed version of the sort key,[3] making it easy to generate reverse dictionaries on the fly if the dictionary data is available in electronic form.



  • Normal and Reverse Word List. Compiled under the direction of A. F. Brown at the University of Pennsylvania, under a contract with the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AF 49 [638]-1042) Department of Linguistics, Philadelphia, 1963.
  • Lehnert, Martin, Rückläufiges Wörterbuch der englischen Gegenwartssprache, VEB Verlag Enzyklopädie, Leipzig, 1971.
  • McGovern, Una, Chambers back-words for crosswords: a reverse-sorted list, Chambers, Edinburgh, 2002
  • Muthmann, Gustav, Reverse English dictionary: based on phonological and morphological principles, Mouton de Gruyter, New York, 1999.
  • Walker, John, The rhyming dictionary of the English language: in which the whole language is arranged according to its terminations, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1983.

Other Languages

  • Alinei, M.L., Dizionario inverso italiano, con indici e liste di frequenza delle terminazioni, Mouton & Co., The Hague 1965.
  • Αναστασιάδη-Συμεωνίδη, Α. Αντίστροφο Λεξικό της Νέας Ελληνικής. Θεσσαλονίκη: Ινστιτούτο Νεοελληνικών Σπουδών, 2002.
  • Bielfeldt, H.H., Rückläufiges Wörterbuch der Russischen Sprache der Gegenwart, Akademie erlag, Berlin, 1958.
  • Boaque, I., Pérez, M., Diccionario inverso de la lengua española, Gredos, Madrid, 1987.
  • Bruckner, T., Rückläufige Wortliste zum heutigen Deutsch, Institut für Deutsche Sprache, Mannheim, 1986.
  • Gradenwitz, Otto, Laterculi vocum latinarum, G. Olms, Hildesheim, 1966.
  • Hajnšek-Holz, Milena and Primož Jakopin, Odzadnji slovar slovenskega jezika po Slovarju slovenskega knjižnega jezika, ZRC SAZU, Ljubljana, 1996.
  • Hecker, Karl, Rückläufiges Wörterbuch des Akkadischen, Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden, 1990.
  • Hinderling, Robert, Rückläufiges estnisches Wörterbuch = Eesti keele pöördsõnaraamat (Sõnalõpuline leksikon) = Reverse dictionary of the Estonian language, Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaftliche Fakultät der Universität Bayreuth, Bayreuth, 1979.
  • Juilland, A., Dictionnaire inverse de la langue française, Mouton, The Hague, 1965.
  • Κουρμούλης Γ. Αντίστροφον λεξικόν της Νέας Ελληνικής. Δεύτερη Έκδοση. Αθήνα: Παπαδήμας, 2002.
  • Krueger, John Richard, Mongolian epigraphical dictionary in reverse listing, Indiana University, Bloomington, 1967.
  • Kubiyak, Yel, Rückläufiges Wörterbuch des Türkischen, Landeck, Frankfurt, 2004.
  • Kuhn, Karl Georg, Rückläufiges hebräisches Wörterbuch, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen, 1958
  • Mater, Erich, Rückläufiges Wörterbuch der deutschen Gegenwartssprache CD-ROM, Straelener Ms.-Verlag, Straelen, 2001 ISBN 3-89107-047-0
  • Mitrevski, George, Macedonian Reverse Dictionary = Македонски обратен речник.
  • Muthmann, Gustav, Rückläufiges deutsches Wörterbuch: Handbuch der Wortausgänge im Deutschen, mit Beachtung der Wort- und Lautstruktur, Niemeyer, Tübingen, 2001.
  • Nieuwborg, E.R., Retrograde woordenboek van de Nederlandse taal, Kluwer Technische Boeken, Deventer, 1978.
  • Papp, Ferenc, A magyar nyelv szóvégmutató szótára [Reverse-alphabetized dictionary of the Hungarian language]. Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, 1969, 2nd ed.: 1994. ISBN 9630567326
  • Rozycki, William, A reverse index of Manchu, Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies, Indiana University, Bloomington, 1981.
  • Sander, Ruth and Kerstin Mayerhofer, Retrograde Hebrew and Aramaic dictionary, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen, 2010. ISBN 978-3-525-55007-6
  • Schwarz, Wolfgang, Rückläufiges Wörterbuch des Altindischen = Reverse index of old Indian, Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden, 1974-1978.
  • Stahl, Fred A., Scavnicky, Gary E. A., A Reverse Dictionary of the Spanish Language, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, IL, 1974.
  • Tuomi, Tuomo (ed.), Suomen kielen käänteissanakirja – Reverse Dictionary of Modern Standard Finnish, Suomalaisen kirjallisuuden seura, 1980. ISBN 951-717-002-5.
  • Vietze, Hans Peter, Rückläufiges Wörterbuch der mongolischen Sprache, Verlag Enzyklopädie, Leipzig, 1976.
  • Zimmer, Stefan, A reverse dictionary of modern Welsh = Geiriadur gwrthdroadol Cymraeg diweddar, Buske, Hamburg, 1987.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Stahl, Fred A., Scavnicky, Gary E. A., A Reverse Dictionary of the Spanish Language, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, IL,1974.
  2. Walker, John, The rhyming dictionary of the English language: in which the whole language is arranged according to its terminations ..., Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983.

See also