Pro tip: Quickly look up a word in iOS without an app

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look up a word in iOS
Yes, this is a real sign, and you could look up any of these words with your iPhone.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

Pro Tip Cult of Mac bugiOS’ Spotlight search does more than just search for apps and documents. Way more. Today we’ll look at one of its handiest abilities — looking up a word in the dictionary without even opening an app.

Use Spotlight, not Notes, to look up a word in iOS

Did you ever want to look up the meaning of a word, so you opened up the Notes app, created a new note, typed in the word, then tapped in that word to get the Look Up popover?

This search triggered the translation dictionary.
This search triggered the translation dictionary.
Photo: Cult of Mac

You don’t ever need to do that again. Instead, just swipe down in any empty spot on your home screen to bring up the Spotlight search bar. Then type your word into that.

Depending on the word, you may get a lot or a few results. In either case, just scroll down until you see the dictionary definition panel.

That might be enough for you. However, if you want more in-depth results, just tap the definition, or the Show More button, to expand your results.

Depending on the dictionaries you have activated, you will see different results. For instance, you may have switched on a translation dictionary, in which case you can use Spotlight search as a translation dictionary. (We have a how-to on choosing and using the built-in iOS dictionaries.)

Short of struggling with Siri, this is the fastest way to look up a word in iOS, at least if you’re not already in an app where you just read that word. In that case, just tap on the word to look it up.