I used to use spotlight fairly frequently to quickly look up words in a dictionary. With Lion, I've noticed that my dictionary results have dropped down much lower in the list of results:

enter image description here

I'd like to bump up the priority of these results so they show up near the top of the list. However, looking at the system Spotlight preferences in Lion, I don't see an obvious way to do this:

enter image description here

How can I make Dictionary.app results show up higher in the list of Spotlight results?

  • After much looking, I haven't discovered any way to get either. I've started using LaunchBar for my dictionary lookups, I have another hotkey for it - and it has a "Look up in Dictionary" command that pops up first hit for "loo". You can even make a custom abbreviation so whatever key you want searches the dictionary. It's not what you ask, but perhaps you'll be OK with alternatives if you can't yet bend spotlight to your will.
    – bmike
    Sep 16, 2011 at 21:00
  • I realize this doesn't directly answer your question, but you may find satisfaction with a more robust application launcher. It's as easy as typing define '...'. I prefer Alfred, but Quicksilver is great too.
    – HaL
    Nov 2, 2011 at 14:44
  • Lion supports double-tap 3 fingers action for dictionary lookup. I suppose you're using a Mac Pro and don't use trackpad then? Jun 3, 2012 at 2:22
  • Oh ho! That's nice!
    – emmby
    Jun 3, 2012 at 20:55
  • Why would Apple remove this from the system preferences in Lion? Sometimes they do stuff and it makes no sense! :)
    – Jowie
    Aug 9, 2012 at 7:00

3 Answers 3


Finally, I found a hack! I wrote a blog post about this which you can find here (in Chinese).

These are the key steps:

  1. Open the file with Xcode:


    If you do not have this file, change the order System Preferences → Spotlight which will cause the OS to create it.

  2. Within the orderedItems node, add a Dictionary item as follows: enter image description here

  3. Save the .plist file.
  4. Open System Preferences → Spotlight, you will find a blank entry, this is what we had added above. You can drag it like other entries to change the order as you like.

  5. You are done! Now type a word in spotlight and see what happened.

enter image description here

  • I don't have the file ~/Library/Preferences/com.apple.spotlight.plist.
    – gentmatt
    May 31, 2012 at 13:55
  • 2
    go to System Preferences → Spotlight, try reorder the items, close System Preferences, and the file will be created by the system. May 31, 2012 at 14:03
  • You are welcome! I grad that I can help. And finally I don't have to use CTRL+Down and UP and UP any more May 31, 2012 at 14:13
  • I've edited your answer and added the step to restart Finder. I had to apply this in order for the change to take affect.
    – gentmatt
    May 31, 2012 at 14:37
  • 2
    Thank you for your edit, the answer looks much nicer. But it's not necessary to restart Finder, this has nothing to do with Finder May 31, 2012 at 14:44

In 10.8+, you can open Spotlight, type in the word to look up, and press ⌘L to jump to the definition within Spotlight. Pressing ⌘D instead of ⌘L opens the definition of the typed word in the Dictionary.app.

  • 3
    Definitely the best answer possible to this question! Jan 10, 2014 at 15:03
  • 4
    Still works in El Capitan, where they removed option of sorting results. Thanks!
    – Fazzolini
    Oct 7, 2015 at 7:18
  • 1
    Great answer. Is there one location where all Spotlight key commands are documented? Apple's official doc only has the most often used ones. Mar 11, 2016 at 20:10
  • Great! I've searched for this for months.
    – Duc Filan
    Oct 11, 2017 at 10:59
  • 2
    @BallpointBen I've found a small list at howtogeek. One I like a lot is CMD+B to instantly search the web for the entered term in your default browser.
    – RDM
    Feb 28, 2018 at 15:17

After a bit of searching, I don’t have a direct answer to your question. But I have a couple of possible fixes:

  1. Find your Dictionary in the Applications folder. Drop it in the dock. Highlight a word in whatever application you are working in, and drag and drop it into the Dictionary icon in the dock.
  2. Google makes the "Google Quick Search Box" (QSB) which is a lot like QuickSilver and LaunchBar (more like Quicksilver of the two). I think for your purpose, QSB is the best option. Google will give you Dictionary results quite readily based on some criteria. I found that if the definition was not immediately available, I could invoke it more explicitly by typing the word whose definition I am seeking followed by ‘definition’.

Here is a little more information about those ‘quick launch’ applications. Google’s QSB is free, quite capable, clean in appearance, but is a little sluggish. … LaunchBar is faster, pretty powerful, not as ‘pretty’, and costs around USD 25-40. Quicksilver has been discontinued, and the developer has recommended that users switch to LaunchBar.

  • 2
    Quicksilver available again, and is recently out of beta. qsapp.com Apr 9, 2013 at 15:51
  • @JoshuaGoldberg Thank you. That's good to know. I will be recommending it to others. (As a matter of fact I just recommended it to a friend by email.) Apr 17, 2013 at 13:44

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