Dictionary.com Word FAQs
If more than one spelling is given in a dictionary or more than one form of the plural, how do I choose? Should I stick with one source when I am working on a document?
Let's answer the second question first. You should choose a main dictionary on which you rely for most of your word information and to assist you with consistency in choosing spellings, forming derivatives, and explaining meanings. However, it is great to have more dictionaries available if you cannot find a word or a piece of information in your main resource. You might even want to take a best of approach when there are variations. If two out of three dictionaries list a certain spelling first and another as the variant, then you can go with that as the spelling to use. In answering the first question, you must understand how most dictionaries choose the order of variants. All variants shown are acceptable in any context unless the dictionary assigns a restrictive label indicating otherwise. The label would say something like chiefly Brit, var of or dial var of. Most dictionaries offer two types of variants - equal and unequal. For equal, these variants occur with virtually equal frequency in electronic and printed citational evidence (i.e., in written usage). These are usually shown with an or in between: e-mail or email, ocher or ochre. The first one may be slightly more common than the second, but both are standard and can be used according to personal choice. For unequal, the first form occurs most frequently and it is followed by also and other less frequently found forms: ambiance also ambience, rhyme also rime. The use of the conventions or and also applies not only to main entries but to all boldface entry words, including inflected forms, plurals, and run-on entries which have variant forms.