iOS Dictionary Lookup via Workflow App



9 Apr 2017

I love that iOS includes the Oxford Dictionary. I dislike that iOS has not provided a simple way for me to lookup a word, unlike on macOS, which has Dictionary. Here's the fix with the app!

Prior to Workflow, one had to either get a dictionary app (like the pricy Oxford Dictionary of English plus Audio by MobiSystems) or create a note just to use the built-in dictionary. The latter is that much more cost effective, but that's really slow - it takes a selection, a tap or swipe to get to the Look up menu item, and then another tap to expand the definition (I hate that iOS 10 adulterated what used to be Define with the horrible Spotlight "Suggestions with Lookup" feature, resulting in the additional last step).

It's so easy to access the dictionary with the Show Definition workflow action.

Workflow Show Definition

  1. Add Ask for Input
  2. Connect that with Show Definition

That's it! Run it and you'll be prompted to enter a word, and then the dictionary entry will be displayed!

In workflow, Actions take an input, act on it, and return an output. In this case, Show Definition simply takes, as its input, the word entered in Ask for Input, and the action is to display the Dictionary definition. You can see the line connecting the output of Ask for Input to Show Definition.

You can also add Speak Text if you want to use the built-in Siri Text-to-Speech engine, but be warned - it (she?) is not always accurate.

Alternatively, if you don't like the built-in dictionary or if you want to hear the proper pronunciation, use the on-line Oxford English Dictionary (OED) instead:

  1. Remove Show Definition so you're only left with Ask for Input.
  2. Then, add a Text action, and here, we put the URL of the Oxford Dictionary. Replace [[Ask for Input]] with the appropriate Magic Variable - to do this, type the URL and when you come to [[Ask for Input]], don't type that in, but instead press the Variables button above the keyboard Worfklow Variables Keyboard Toolbar, then tap on Select Magic Variable and Ask for Input:
    • For the OED,[[Ask for Input]]
    • Or if you prefer "American", use[[Ask for Input]]
  3. Add Show Web Page.

You should end up with this:

Workflow Show Web Page

You could also press Magic Variable and then select the output of the Ask for Input node:

Workflow Select Magic Variable

A Magic Variable is simply a reference to a previous output. So, instead of using the output of the immediately preceding action, you could select the output of any prior action. In this case, I'm using it as part of the URL.

A Uniform Resource Locator (URL) is the "web address" of a web site or web page.

Updated 9 Apr: Fixed OED URL and added a bit more detail about the Magic Variable.