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If I google perspicacious, Google Search correctly infers that I want a definition and just includes it at the top of the results. For more common words, like vanish, I would have to write define vanish, but then it'll do it.

However, this functionality doesn't seem to work in other languages. Personally I'm trying to get it to give me definitions for French words, to no avail.

Does anyone know if there's a way to enable embedded definitions for other languages?

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2 Answers 2

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TL;DR

Google is great at assuming, but terrible at mind reading. If your search is ambiguous, and you want results in a specific Google Dictionary language, make the query less ambiguous. For example, trigger Google Dictionary using the intended language:


Same Question, Different Year

While your question is 7 years old, similar questions continue to be posted today.

They are usually variations of the same theme:

"Google Search makes incorrect assumptions about the results I want, how do I fix this?"

Some examples, How to make Google default to local currency? and also How to get rid of Mathway, GeoGebra, QuickMath, and Symbolab stuff?

Google Search makes a host of assumptions on your behalf. The same search query can return slightly different, even drastically different, results from user to user. A single user can get different results over time, or by simply changing the device or location. For example, an identical search performed seconds apart by the same user from the same location and device can provide different results.

Google Search doesn't know in advance what a user will search, nor the role it is expected to fill. Is it to be a Dictionary? A Translator? A Calculator? A Map? Your Research assistant? A Personal Shopper? A News Aggregator?

While Search will guess what results a user prefers, users can also narrow the scope, for example, by switching to translation mode or searching only in Maps, the Dictionary, or the Calculator.

This extra navigation can often be avoided if users adapt their search queries to return what they prefer, and some of these Search roles can be specified directly in queries.

Define / Definition

While Search might assume you are looking for a definition, your example of adding the Google Dictionary trigger term define (there are others) before the word vanish, illustrates a great way to narrow a search. The same term when applied to the word perspicacious, also illustrates the nuance and variability of Search.

While [vanish] doesn't trigger Google Dictionary for you and me, [define vanish] does.

For you and I, a search for either [perspicacious] or [define perspicacious] both trigger the Google Dictionary definition of perspicacious

But, while those two perspicacious searches both trigger the Google Dictionary, the searches are not identical, and the search results themselves are also different:

French Definition

Moving on to your question about searches for French definitions of French words.

When a French word also exists in English, Search must make a judgment call. Without other clues or cues, Search naturally assumes it is a word from your default language. You can however "help" Search understand it's a French word.

There is a certain irony in this specific case that define and definition, two of the words that will trigger Google Dictionary, both exist in both English and French and share the same meaning in both languages. Depending on your locale, simply trying to define a French word with accents that isn't also an English word, such as véritable may be enough to trigger the French dictionary.

Search Query Variations

Here are some search variations in my locale. I indicate wherever the word is ambiguous, which means that it could be English or French:

Language [Trigger:Term] Search String           Dictionary Language
ambiguous:ambiguous [define veritable] English
ambiguous:ambiguous [definition veritable] English
ambiguous:French [define véritable] French
French:ambiguous [défine veritable] French
French:French [défine véritable] French
ambiguous:French [definition véritable] French
French:ambiguous [définition veritable] French
French:French [définition véritable] French
ambiguous:ambiguous [definition auto] English
French:ambiguous [définition auto] French

Adding French Definition Search to Chrome

You can use Chrome's site search shortcuts to make a French definition search available from Chrome's address bar:

  1. In Chrome's address bar type chrome://settings/searchEngines then press ENTER
  2. In the Site search section click Add
  3. Then in the Add search Engine dialog put the following:
       Engine:     French Definitions
       Shortcut:  f (change this if you prefer)
       URL:         https://www.google.com/search?q=défine+%s
  4. Then click Add
  5. Now, to search for a French definition using Chrome you will type:
    fSpace then <wordToDefine>

Note: You can do the same for your English dictionary searches if they are frequent. This will allow you to type dSpace (or whatever you choose) instead of defineSpace

References

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The behavior for define term searches seems to be:

  • First check if the word is available in the user's local dictionary.
  • If that returns nothing, check dictionaries in other languages.

(It may be possible to change your local dictionary by changing your account's language but I didn't even check because that's inconvenient and changes a lot of other things.)

My local dictionary is the New Oxford American Dictionary, so auto gives me an English definition but croire gives me a French definition. Given the overlap between the two languages, this will prevent you from seeing a number of French definitions.

As a workaround, don't use Google Search. In Google Translate, type in the word and ensure the appropriate language is selected. "Look up details" is a link to the relevant definition in that language.

Note: There are two English dictionaries licensed by Google (NOAD and its British counterpart, the Oxford Dictionary of English [ODE]), but the method above obviously won't switch between them. It's possible to switch between them in Google Search by manipulating the URL, using the query parameter gl=gb for ODE and gl=us for NOAD. To make this easier, I created bookmarklets to switch between the two.

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  • Try Searching 'défine auto' from your locale, it will remove the ambiguity of the intended language.
    – Blindspots
    Nov 10, 2023 at 22:24

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