Pleco 2.0 Instruction Manual : Dictionary

Pleco 2.0 Dictionary Reference

  1. Main Interface
  2. Additional Features
  3. Interface Customizations
  4. Toolbar and Menu Commands


Main Interface

When you first open Pleco, you'll be presented with this screen:

wmmain palmmain

The Command Bar at the top of the screen is your interface to most of Pleco's major functions. A few important buttons to note:

Explanations for the other buttons can be found under Toolbar and Menu Commands, though many of them are also described later on in this section. The available buttons can be customized in the Toolbar panel of Pleco's Preferences screen; if you're confused by all of the Chinese character icons, there's also an option on that screen to use graphical icons instead.

Below the Command bar is the Search Bar - enter a word in the Input Field to search for matching dictionary entries. Tap on the Clear Input clear button next to the Input Field to clear its contents.

Below that is the Definition Field, in which the currently-selected dictionary entry is displayed, and next to that the Entry List, which lets you scroll through entries in a dictionary or in a list of search results. Tap on an entry in the Entry List to view it in the Definition Field.




You can look up Chinese words in Pleco using characters, Pinyin, or a combination of the two, with the option of using wildcards in place of one or more characters. You can also use wildcards when looking up English words.

If your handheld has a built-in keyboard (hardware-based or onscreen), you can use that to enter English and Pinyin searches; simply type them in like you would in any other application and they should show up in the Input Field.

To enter Chinese characters, see the Entering Characters section below. If you already have another program on your handheld for inputting Chinese characters, that should generally also work in Pleco; however, on Palm OS you'll need to enable Input Field Compatibility Mode in order to enter characters using that program. (there's no settings change needed to enter characters with an external program on Windows Mobile)

Pinyin Search

To search for a Chinese word in Pinyin, simply enter the letters in each syllable. You can indicate tones with numbers at the end of words; if you're not familiar with tone numbers, here's a quick guide:

Number Example Description
1 ma1 Flat Tone
2 ma2 Rising Tone
3 ma3 Falling-Rising Tone
4 ma4 Falling Tone
5 ma5 Neutral Tone

So for "ni hao", both syllables of which are falling-rising tones, you'd enter "ni3hao3". You can also enter Pinyin without tones, like "nihao" - in that case, Pleco will match any word with those syllables regardless of their tones.

To enter an umlaut (ü, as in nü or lü), enter a 'v', or use Pleco's built-in keyboard to enter an actual 'ü'.

By default, Pinyin searches without tones return all matches that start with the letters you entered; "jihu" for example would return not only "ji1hu1" but also "ji1hua4" and "ji2huan4." This lets you see results for many searches without actually having to type in the entire word. If you prefer to only get Pinyin syllables that exactly match what you entered, turn on the "Match length" option in the Query panel of Preferences.

There's no need to separate ambiguous syllables like "xian" versus "xi'an" or "chang'an" versus "changan" either - Pleco searches for both possibilities in those cases. You can change this and make it match syllables strictly by enabling "Strict splits" in that same Query panel.

Character Search

To search for a Chinese word using characters, simply enter those characters using Pleco's built-in handwriting recognizer or another input system. You can use simplified or traditional characters; Pleco will match both regardless of which character set it's currently configured to display.

Mixed Pinyin / Character Search

You can also search for a Chinese word using a mix of characters and Pinyin. To use this search option, simply enter a character followed by a Pinyin syllable, or a Pinyin syllable followed by a character; for example, you could look up nihao by entering "nihao" or "nihao." This works just as quickly as a character-only or Pinyin-only search, and can save a lot of time if you're looking up a word where you recognize (and know the Pinyin for) one character but aren't sure about another. And as with regular Pinyin and character searches, you use traditional or simplified characters and can enter Pinyin with or without tones.

Due to technical limitations, you can only mix characters and Pinyin in the first two character positions of a word - i.e., you can enter a character followed by one or more Pinyin syllables, or a Pinyin syllable followed by one or more characters, but you cannot enter a character, a Pinyin syllable, and then another character.

Wildcard Search

Pleco supports two kinds of wildcards, single-character and multi-character.

The single-character wildcard is "@" - enter a @ in place of a single character or Pinyin syllable to search for words with any character / syllable in that position. So, for example, you could look up all words with bu as their second character by entering "@bu" as your search, or all words with the form bu...bu... by entering "bu@bu". With Pinyin searches, the @ replaces an entire syllable, and not an individual letter; "qin@yu" for example would search for words with the first syllable "qin" and third syllable "yu", so “qing1chu1yu2lan2” would not be one of the resulting matches since "qing" wouldn't match the first syllable. In English searches, the @ only replaces one letter, so h@lo would match "halo" but not "hello."

The multi-character wildcard is "$" - enter a $ in place of anywhere from 0-3 characters/syllables. So entering "$bu" would return any entry in which bu was the first, second, third, or fourth character, and entering "$yu2" would return any word in which yu2 was the first, second, third, or fourth syllable. You can combine the $ with the @ symbol, so if you wanted to look for all words where bu was the second character or later, you could do this using the query @$bu (or $@bu). In English searches, the $ can replace an unlimited number of characters (it's not limited to 0-3).

Both of these wildcard characters can be customized in the Query panel of Preferences.

Zhuyin Search

To search for a word using Zhuyin pronunciation, enter the Zhuyin characters using Pleco's built-in keyboard - as with Pinyin, you can do this with or without tones. There's no need to change any other setting, Pleco will automatically search in Zhuyin if it detects Zhuyin characters in the Input Field.

Full-text Search

Along with headwords, Pleco can also search the full text of dictionary entries, including both definitions and example sentences. This is available in all of our dictionaries, though at present it only supports English and Chinese character searches (no Pinyin). It works with multi-word phrases as well as single words.

To perform a full-text search, enter a "#" at the start the word you want to search for. This character can be changed in the Query panel of Preferences, and you can also use the "Full-Text Search" menu or toolbar command to automatically insert that character at the start of a search query. So, for example, to search for all dictionary entries that contain the word "wedding" you'd enter "#wedding" in the Input Field. This is a great way to look for vocabulary related to a specific subject (like weddings), to look up obscure words by searching dictionaries in the opposite direction ("#arhat"), to look up common phrases ("#door to door"), or to find usage examples for Chinese words ("#ran'er").

When you perform a full-text search, the Switch Language icon becomes inverted chnf engf to indicate that you're now looking at a list of full-text search results. The icon indicates which language the results are in, NOT which language the current dictionary uses; hence, if you enter an English full-text search, tapping on the Switch Dictionary button will cycle you through both English-to-Chinese and English-to-Chinese dictionaries, but the icon will remain a "ying" character. Tapping on the Switch Language icon will exit full-text search, as will manually deleting the "#" character at the start of the Input Field or selecting the Full-text Search toolbar/menu command again.

Please note that full-text searches for Chinese words will only work with characters (no Pinyin), and currently only support searches of 2+ characters in length - full-text searches for single characters are not currently possible due to memory- and file-size-related constraints.

Enable "Fall back on full-text search" in the Results panel of Preferences to have Pleco automatically perform a full-text search when it can't find a word using a regular search.



Search Results

After you enter a search, the results of that search will show up in the Entry List, like this:

maindict maindictpalm

At the right edge of the Search Bar is the List Mode button (dictmode resmode). The icon indicates whether you're currently in Dictionarydictmode or Results resmode mode - in Dictionary mode, the Entry List displays all of the entries in the currently-selected dictionary, while in Results mode it only displays the results of the most recent search. Tapping on the button switches between modes - switching from Results to Dictionary mode will automatically jump to the currently-selected result's location in the dictionary, making it easy to look for other words with the same starting character, while switching from Dictionary to Results jumps you back to the first search result. The list normally goes into Results mode whenever you perform a dictionary search; however, if only one result is available for that search, the list goes right into Dictionary mode. Non-wildcard English searches always put the list in Dictionary mode, since all of the words beginning with a given set of letters will appear next to each other in the dictionary and hence there's no point in displaying them in a separate result list.

By default, when you enter a single-Chinese-character or single-Pinyin-syllable search, Pleco will only display dictionary entries with single-character headwords. This is designed to make it easier for you to find all of the words that begin with a particular character; you simply find that character in the Entry List, select it, then tap on the List Mode button to jump to that character's location in the dictionary (with all of the other entries which start with it listed immediately below). It's also helpful in searches where you know the Pinyin for the first character; enter the Pinyin for that character, select it from the Entry List, then tap on the Copy to Input copyinputbutton to copy that character to the Input Field; you can then enter the second character or Pinyin syllable and have fewer results to sort through than you would if you'd entered the whole search in Pinyin. (see Cross-Referencing for more information on the Copy to Input button). If you prefer that single-character searches return all results starting with that character, disable the "1-char Results..." option in the Results panel of Preferences.




Entering Characters

To enter Chinese characters using Pleco's built-in handwriting / radical input systems, tap on the Input input button in the toolbar to bring up this screen:

inputhwr inputhwrpalm

At the top of this screen is another Input Field - whatever you put in here will be copied to the main Input Field when you tap on the OK / Done button. Tap on the Clear Input clear button located right next to the Input Field to erase its contents.

To enter a Chinese character, simply write it in the Drawing Box. The handwriting recognizer supports cursive and non-cursive handwriting, and is fairly tolerant of stroke order mistakes, though it tends to be more accurate if you draw the character with correct stroke order. If you're not familiar with Chinese character stroke order, here's a quick guide:

  1. Draw characters from top to bottom.
  2. Draw characters from left to right. This usually comes after top-to-bottom in priority, so that in a character like qing, you would draw the left part from top to bottom and then the right part from top to bottom.
  3. Draw horizontal strokes before vertical strokes, except that usually in a character with many horizontal strokes intersected by one vertical stroke (like the top right corner of the above character) you draw all but the bottom horizontal stroke, then the vertical stroke, and then finish off with that last horizontal stroke.
  4. Draw from the outside to the inside, except that in characters like xiao, where you don't really have one form enclosing another, you draw the center stroke before the outside ones (inside to outside).

You can look up the stroke order for individual characters using Pleco's built-in stroke order diagram feature.

Once you finish drawing the character, tap on the Recognize button to run it through the handwriting recognizer; a list of matching characters will appear in the Character Box. Tap on the correct character to copy it to the Input Field. If you accidentally pick the wrong character, tap on the Backspace backspacebutton to delete it and try again. If the character you're looking for doesn't show up in the Character Box, try drawing/recognizing it again - if you're not sure about the stroke order, vary it a bit and see if that improves the accuracy.

Tapping on the Undo button will delete the last stroke drawn in the Drawing Box, so if you accidentally draw part of a character incorrectly, you can use Undo to avoid having to redraw the entire character. Tapping the Clear button deletes all of the strokes in the Drawing Box.

The SC / TC / Rare checkboxes at the bottom of the screen allow you to configure exactly what set of characters the handwriting recognizer will look for matches in; SC enables simplified characters, TC traditional, and Rare for uncommon / infrequently-used characters. Turning some of these checkboxes off will reduce the number of characters that the recognizer has to check your handwriting against, which increases the likelihood that the character you want will appear in the Character Box (since there are fewer incorrect characters for it to mistakenly match).

You can only enter one character in the Drawing Box at a time; once you finish drawing a character, Recognize it, tap on the matching character in the Character Box, and you can then proceed to draw another character.

To go back to the PlecoDict 1.0-style handwriting input box, or to configure the system to automatically recognize / enter characters without having to tap on the Recognize button, see the Input panel of the Preferences screen. On Palm OS, you can also enable an experimental finger-friendly version of this screen (with an extremely large handwriting input box) via the Input panel of Preferences - this is particularly useful on the new Palm Pre smartphone.


Tapping on the Radical tab will take you to this screen:

inputrad inputradpalm

This screen will let you look up characters based on their radical, as in a printed Chinese dictionary. The Input Field / Backspace Button / Clear Input Button are the same as in the Handwriting tab.

To look up a character, tap on the Radical Selector (just to the right of "Radical:") - the Radical Selector will turn gray and the large Character Box to display a list of all of the standard character radicals. Next, count the number of strokes in the character's radical and select that number from the Strokes List (to the right of "Strokes:") to jump to radicals with that number of strokes. Then, tap on the radical you want. That radical will now show up in the Radical Selector and a list of characters containing that radical will appear in the Character Box - scroll through that list, or use the Strokes box again to jump to characters with that number of additional strokes, and tap on the character you want to copy it to the Input Field.

If you highlight a character in the Definition Field before opening up the Radical screen, Pleco will bring up the Radical screen with that charcter's radical already chosen in the Radical Selector.

Uncheck the Include chars not in dictionaries box to limit the radical table only to characters which are covered by Pleco's built-in dictionaries; otherwise, it will display every character it knows about for a given radical, even those for which no definition is available.

Normally, when you select a radical that's specifically traditional or simplified ("speech," for example), Pleco will filter the results to only display characters from the same character set. If you prefer that it display characters from both sets, go into the Input panel of the Preferences screen and un-check the "Filter radical results by character set" box.


Tapping on the Keyboard tab will take you to this screen:

inputkey inputkeypalm

Simply tap on a character on the keyboard to enter it into the Input Field. Use the Keyboard Menu at the bottom of the screen to select the type of keyboard you want - English for entering English text, German for German text, French for French, Pinyin for Pinyin (slightly different from English since it includes an umlaut character and larger number buttons for tones), and Zhuyin to enter characters using the Zhuyin Fuhao pronunciation system.



Browsing / Viewing Entries

The exact structure of dictionary entries varies a bit from dictionary to dictionary, but there are some points that are common to all (or nearly all) of them:

Headword - the Chinese characters for the current dictionary entry. By default, the version in the current character set (Simplified or Traditional) will be shown first, with the other character set version in brackets after it (and any characters that the two versions have in common replaced with - dashes). You can switch between character sets with the Switch Character Set sctc tcsc button, and can turn off the second character set or get rid of the dashes using the "Headword display mode" setting in the Display panel of Preferences. The headword is normally shown at a larger size than the rest of the dictionary entry, but you can change that as well in the Display panel.

Pinyin - the Mandarin pronunciation of the current entry in Hanyu Pinyin romanization. Normally this is shown with marks above vowels to indicate tones; you can switch to tone numbers after each syllable or to using Zhuyin Fuhao / BoPoMoFo pronunciation in the Display panel of Preferences.

The Mandarin pronunciation provided in most of our Chinese dictionaries is shown without applying tone sandhi transformations (as is standard practice among lexicographers). Pronunciations in the Tuttle Learner's dictionary do reflect the sandhi transformations for bu and yi (rules 1 and 2 below) but do not reflect third-tone transformations (rule 3 below). Our multi-syllable audio samples also reflect tone sandhi transformations, so for common words you can determine the correct pronunciation using those. (sandhi transformations are not reflected in the audio pronunciation when Pleco doesn't have an exact recording for the current headword and instead plays it syllable-by-syllable)

The tone sandhi rules for Mandarin are fairly straightforward; here are the most common three:

  1. bu changes from fourth-tone (bu4) to second-tone (bu2) when it's followed by another fourth-tone syllable.
  2. yi is pronounced with a first tone (yi1) when it appears by itself or as part of a longer number, with a second tone (yi2) whenever it's followed by a fourth-tone syllable, and with a fourth tone (yi4) when it's not followed by a fourth-tone syllable.
  3. When two third-tone syllables appear in a row, the first one becomes second tone, so ni3hao3 for example is actually pronounced ni2hao3.

Wikipedia has a more complete summary of Mandarin tone sandhi rules; most Chinese textbooks should cover them too.

Definition - the definition of the current entry. The format of these varies considerably from dictionary to dictionary, so consult the dictionary guides for more information on them.


Switching Dictionaries

To switch to a different dictionary, simply tap on the Switch Dictionary button abc nwp ox gf in the Command Bar. Which dictionaries this button will switch to depends on whether or not you're currently doing a dictionary search:

Tapping-and-holding on the Switch Dictionary button will pop up a list of all available dictionaries for the current language (or all languages if you're in the middle of a full-text search); select a dictionary from this list to jump to that dictionary. However, if you're in the middle of a search and the selected dictionary does not have any matching search results, Pleco will jump to the next dictionary in the list that does have matching results.

Character Info

Tap on any Chinese character in a dictionary definition to bring up the Character Info screen for it; see Character Info below for more information on that. If you prefer not to have this happen whenever you tap on a character, you can turn it off by setting "Tap char action" to "None" in the Stylus Actions panel of Preferences.

Popup Menu

Highlight a piece of text in a dictionary definition, then tap-and-hold your handheld's stylus on that highlighted text for a moment to pop up this menu:

popmenu popmenupalm

This provides a convenient way to access some commonly-used commands:

You can change the way that the popup menu is invoked in the Stylus Actions panel of Preferences.

Hardware Scrolling

In addition to scrollbars, you can scroll through dictionary entries in Pleco using the hardware scroll buttons on your handheld. Pressing the scroll down button will scroll you down a page in the current dictionary entry; if you're already at the bottom of that entry (or the entry is only one page long), it will scroll you to the next item in the Entry List instead. Likewise, the scroll up button will move you up a page in the current dictionary entry or, if you're already at the top of it, to the previous item in the Entry List. (this can be reconfigured in the Button Actions panel of Preferences)

Character Set

Pleco can display dictionary entries in both traditional and simplified Chinese characters. To switch between them, simply tap on the Switch Character Set button (sctc for simplified, tcsc for traditional) in the toolbar. This also switches which character set will appear first in dictionary headwords; normally both sets are displayed but with the inactive one in brackets. If you prefer to only see headwords in the active character set, change "Headword display mode" to "One Set Only" in the Display panel of Preferences.

Add to Flashcards

Tap on the Add to Flashcards addflash button to add the current dictionary entry to your flashcard file. You can also do this with the "Add Entry to Flash" command in the Modules menu. See the Flashcards Reference for more information on how to use Pleco's flashcard system.

The new flashcard will normally be placed in whatever category you've configured as the default in the Manage Categories section of the flashcard system; you can put it in a different category by tapping-and-holding on the Add to Flashcards button and selecting the desired category from the list that pops up.

After you tap on the Add to Flashcards button, a message will briefly flash on the screen confirming that you've just created a new flashcard; you can turn this off in the Flashcards panel of Preferences.



Pleco includes several features to facilitate easily cross-referencing / jumping between dictionary entries.

Copy to Input

Highlight a piece of text in the dictionary definition, then tap on the Copy to Input button copyinput in the Search Bar to copy the highlighted text to the Input Field and immediately search for matching dictionary entries. If no text is selected, Pleco copies the current dictionary headword to the Input Field instead; this is particularly useful for looking up words that start with a given character. With Chinese-to-English entries, if no text is selected and the current headword is already in the Input Field, tapping on the Copy to Input button copies the current entry's Pinyin pronunciation to the Input Field instead of the headword.


A few Pleco dictionaries (the ABC and Tuttle) now support hyperlinks; these work just like in a web page, tap on the underlined text to copy it to the Input Field and pull up the relevant dictionary definition. If you prefer to have these definitions pop up in a separate window, you can configure that to happen in the Stylus Actions panel of Preferences.

Popup Definition

Highlight a piece of text and select "Popup Definition" from the "Modules" menu (or from the tap-hold Popup Menu) to bring up this screen:

popdefn popdefnpalm

The buttons in this screen work similarly to those in the main dictionary interface; the Switch Dictionary button switches between dictionaries, the Play Audio button plays audio for the current dictionary entry, and the Add to Flashcards button adds the current dictionary entry to your flashcard file. Other functions like Copy to Input and Character Info are not yet supported in this screen.

If more than one matching entry was found, you can scroll between them using the Next Entry down and Previous Entryup buttons; the counter in between those buttons tells you how many total matches Pleco found in the current dictionary.

If you enable the "Include edit box in Instant Access window" option in the "External" panel of Preferences, the popup definition screen will have its own Input Field:

popdefn popdefnpalm

You can change the text in this field just as in the main dictionary, and the Clear Input clear, Input input, Copy to Input copyinput, and Switch Language chn buttons all work the same way.

Tap on the Done button (quit in the extra-Input-Field verison) to return to the main dictionary screen.


Pleco includes a built-in history function that automatically remembers the last 200 dictionary entries viewed and the last 100 searches performed, making it easy to return to a previous dictionary entry or search..

To go back to a previously-viewed dictionary entry, tap on the Back button in the toolbar left; this works just like in a web browser, you can continue tapping Back to go back to earlier entries or tap the Forward rightbutton to go forward again. On Palm OS, the Forward button is not included in the default toolbar configuration, so you'll need to use the Forward command in the Dict / Dict menu instead, or add a Forward button to the toolbar in the Toolbar panel of Preferences.

To go back to a previous set of search results, use the Recent Query List: tap on the downward-pointing triangle at the right side of the Input Field (popup trigger) to open that list, select an item in it and that search will be copied to the Input Field and its results shown in the Entry List. There's no need to switch dictionaries / languages before doing this, Pleco automatically remembers which language and dictionary you used in the original search.

To clear the list of recent entries / searches, use the "Clear all recent search data" button in the Misc panel of Preferences.

Send to Reader

Choose "Send Entry to Reader" from the Modules menu to bring up the text of the current dictionary entry in Pleco's built-in document reader. This is particularly helpful for dictionary entries that are mostly or entirely in Chinese, since it makes it easy to quickly look up the pronunciation / meaning for unknown Chinese words.


Additional Features

Character Info

Tap on a Chinese character in a dictionary definition to bring up this screen:

charinfodetails charinfodetailspalm

This screen gives you a magnified version of the character along with some basic information about it. Information in this screen is taken from the Unihan database - see the Unihan reference for a detailed description of each field. ("Frequency" is rated from 1 to 5, 1 being highest)

You can customize which fields are shown on this screen by selecting them from the popup menus located above each field; a wide variety of information is available, from stroke counts to alternate pronunciations / variants to references in various printed dictionaries. Check the Rare box at the bottom of the screen to include all available Unihan fields, even the highly obscure / technical ones. Tap on the All Details button to view data from every available Unihan field instead of just the few you've selected. The pronunciation and definition info from this database is also available in the main dictionary screen as the "Unihan" dictionary.

The number code next to the "Rare" checkbox gives the character's Unicode code point - this is a standard numerical value that uniquely identifies the character, useful for cross-referencing it in other databases and online dictionaries.


Tap on the Stroke Order tab to bring up this screen:

charinfostroke charinfostrokepalm

This screen lets you review the correct stroke order for the selected character. The character's Mandarin pronunciation, radical, and stroke count are shown at the top right corner of the screen.

Tap on the Play play button to view an animation of the character's stroke order; you can make this animation draw more slowly or more quickly using the Speed control. Tap on the Back left and Forward right buttons to step through the character one stroke at a time. Tap on the Start start and End endbuttons to go to the first / last strokes.

Check the Outline box to draw outlines around each stroke, even those that haven't been filled in yet. Check the Fade box to draw strokes that appear later in the stroke order in a lighter color. (this works best in characters with a small number of strokes)

Traditional characters viewed in this screen may appear with blockier / thicker strokes than simplified ones; this is normal, it's just the nature of the stroke order data set that we licensed for this feature.


Tap on the Compounds tab to bring up this screen:

charinfocompounds charinfocompoundspalm

This screen lists all of the dictionary entries that begin with or contain the selected character. It may take a few seconds to load, particularly for very common characters, as Pleco needs to sort through a lot of database entries to find all available matches.

Select an entry in one of the lists and tap on the Go To Word button to bring up the selected entry in the main dictionary interface. Tap on Popup Word to bring up the selected entry in a popup window instead. Tap on the dictionary switch icon at the bottom left corner of the screen to change which dictionary the software will search for compound words.


Audio Pronunciation

To hear an audio recording for a Chinese word, simply tap on the Play Audio button audio in the Command Bar at the top of the screen. The built-in audio set uses a Northern-accented male speaker; it includes about 8000 words in the default installation but this can be extended to over 34,000 with the extended set of audio files: see here (Windows Mobile) or here (Palm) for help finding/installing them. There's also an alternate audio set with a female speaker available (though the recordings in it are unfortunately not as clear / high-quality); if you install both sets, you can configure which one Pleco uses in the Misc panel of Preferences.

When Pleco can't find a recording for a given word, it pieces one together using recordings for the individual syllables. It does not attempt to apply tone sandhi transformations to these recordings (so two third-tone syllables would both be played as third-tone, even if the first syllable would normally be transformed to second-tone), it plays the syllables exactly as they're written in the dictionary entry. If you prefer not to hear audio for a word unless Pleco has an exact recording available for it, enable the "skip words without exact audio" setting in the Misc panel of Preferences - with that option enabled, Pleco will remain silent when it can't find an exact recording for a word.

Tapping on the Play Audio button when audio is already playing will interrupt that playback and begin playing whatever word is currently selected.


User Dictionary

You can create new dictionary entries right on your handheld using Pleco's User Dictionary feature; this is useful when encountering new words / slang that aren't covered by any of our dictionaries. User-created dictionaries support all of the same search modes as built-in dictionaries except for full-text search (not possible due to technical limitations); you can use wildcards and mixed Pinyin/character searches just as in any other dictionary.

To create a new dictionary entry, choose "Add/Edit Custom Entry" from the Modules menu (you can also add this command to Pleco's toolbars) to bring up this screen:

editentrynew editnewentrypalm

Tap on the Switch Language icon at the bottom of the screen to switch between Chinese-to-English (chn) and English-to-Chinese (eng) entry creation. The menu next to that (marked "User C-E" in this screenshot) lets you select which user dictionary database the new entry will be added to, if you've created more than one.

Enter the text of the dictionary entry in the appropriate fields; Simp for the simplified-character version of the headword, Trad for the traditional-character version (you don't need to enter both), Pron for the Pinyin pronunciation (currently only tested with Pinyin), and Defn for the definition. Enter the headword for an English-to-Chinese entry in the Word field.

You can enter text using your handheld's built-in text input system or using Pleco's; to enter text using Pleco's built-in handwriting / radical / keyboard inputs, tap on the field you want to edit (so that a blinking cursor appears in it), then tap on the Input input button to bring up the Input Screen.

Tap on the Done button to finish and save your new entry, or Cancel to cancel it. Tapping on Done will automatically bring up the newly-created entry in the main dictionary interface; the dictionary icon for user-created dictionaries is labeled "USR" usr.

You can also add new entries to a user dictionary from a text file using the Import command in the Configure User Dictionary screen in Manage Dicts.


Use this same "Add/Edit Custom Entry" command to edit an existing dictionary entry:

editentryexisting editexistingentrypalm

This is almost the same screen as editing a new entry, but with two additions.

The New button creates a new, empty user dictionary entry (without altering the current one), which saves you the trouble of going back to the main screen if you actually don't want to edit the current entry but instead want to create a new one.

The Unlock button makes the headword and Pinyin fields editable again; otherwise, you can only edit the dictionary definition. This restriction goes away if you upgrade your flashcard database to the latest format version; you can do that through the "Flashcards" tab in Preferences.


Use the "Delete Custom Entry" menu / toolbar command to delete a user dictionary entry.


Your user dictionary databases will be stored in two files in your handheld's memory; "PlecoCUserXXXXXXXX" for Chinese-to-English entries and "PlecoEUserXXXXXXX" for English-to-Chinese ones. (the Xes are replaced by numbers and letters identifying the date that the database was created) On Windows Mobile they'll be stored in your My Documents folder; on Palm OS they'll be in the same place as your flashcards file (which you can access using PlecoMover).

If you'd like to import a premade list of words into Pleco's user dictionary, you can do that using the Import Flashcards screen - format the list of words as a flashcard list, check the "Store imported definitions in user dict" box in the Import screen, import the list of words, then tap on the "Undo" button to delete the new flashcards but leave the new user dictionary entries intact. To undo a user dictionary import, use the Undo button in the Manage Dictionaries screen. We don't recommend using this for lists of more than a few thousand words, though - the user dictionary system hasn't yet been optimized to work well with longer lists, and can tend to get very slow around the 10,000-20,000 word mark (particularly on Palm OS).


Instant Access

You can look up Chinese words in other applications on your handheld (email, text messages, documents, web pages, etc) using Pleco's built-in "Instant Access" feature. With this option enabled, you simply highlight a word and launch Pleco to bring up a definition for the word:

instaccess instaccesspalm

The controls in this are the same as the Popup Definition window, except that on Windows Mobile there's an additional button right next to the Done button with a Pleco icon on it - tap on that button to bring up the selected word in the full dictionary interface. (this is not possible on Palm OS)

As in the Popup Defintiion window, if you check the "Include edit box in Instant Access window" option in the "External" panel of Preferences, the Input Access screen will have its own Input Field:

popdefn popdefnpalm

You can change the text in this field just as in the main dictionary, and the Clear Input clear, Input input (not available on Palm OS due to technical constraints), Copy to Input copyinput, and Switch Language chn buttons all work the same way.

There are a couple of ways to launch Instant Access. On Windows Mobile, the easiest way is with our PlecoLaunch utility; go to Start / Settings / Buttons to assign PlecoLaunch to a program launch button, then just press that button to bring up a Pleco definition on the highlighted word. (you can also launch it from the Start Menu or another application launcher) The External Preferences panel offers some other launch methods.

On Palm OS, the easiest way to launch Instant Access depends on whether or not your handheld has a hardware keyboard. If it does (i.e. it's a Treo/Centro smartphone), go to the External Preferences panel and set up Instant Access "from button press" - choose a button to assign to Instant Access and you can simply press that button to launch it. If your Palm doesn't have a hardware keyboard, you can still launch it with a button press but you can also use the Palm OS' built-in command bar; to do that, simply draw a diagonal line (slash character, in other words), lower-left-to-upper-right, in your Palm's Graffiti handwriting input area to bring up the command bar, then tap on the Pleco icon to launch Instant Access.

Note that Instant Access won't work with some applications; it all depends on whether or not Pleco can figure out how to extract text from them - we've tested it with most of the built-in applications on Palm/WM devices but it may not work at all with some third-party applications. On Palm OS, switching the "Text Extraction Mode" from "Clipboard" to "Experimental" in the External panel of Preferences may help with this in some applications like SMS, though it also makes the software take a bit longer to startup and can hurt system stability in some cases (increasing the likelihood of a crash).


Interface Customizations

The main interface in Pleco is highly customizable - you can rearrange and resize most of the main controls, and can also add a character input panel to the main screen for easier handwriting/radical/keyboard input.

Entry List

To resize the Entry List, click and drag the separator bar next to it (thick black line) until it's the correct size.

To show or hide the Entry List, tap on the Toggle List list Command Bar button. Tapping-and-holding on that button will bring up a menu that lets you reposition the Entry List: you can put it on the left, right, or bottom side of the screen, or make it "Fullscreen" in which case the definition area is hidden and the list occupies the entire screen width. This same menu is also available in the Layout panel of Preferences.

With the Entry List in Fullscreen mode, the way you navigate Pleco changes slightly; instead of searching for a word and immediately looking at the results, you open the Entry List, enter your search word, select the entry you want from the list, then close the list to view its definition. You can automate this process a bit with two Preferences options. Enabling "Open Entry List on search" in the Results panel will cause the list to automatically open whenever you begin a new search, saving you the trouble of having to open it manually. Selecting "Hide List" as the "List tap action" in the Stylus Actions panel will cause the list to automatically close whenever you tap on an entry in it. If you combine the two options, you can seamlessly enter a search word and select/view the result you want without having to fiddle around with the Toggle List button at all.

Input Palette

Tap-and-hold on the Input input button to pop up another menu which will let you add a character input area to the main dictionary screen. As with the Entry List, you can put it on the left, right, or bottom side of the screen; the "Fullscreen" option in this menu will bring up the separate Input screen. Also as with the Entry List, you can also configure the Input Palette from the Layout panel of Preferences.

When you first open the input palette, it will look like this:

hwrboxpal hwrboxpalm

This is essentially just a miniature version of Pleco's regular handwriting input screen. Draw a character in the Drawing Box on the right side of the screen, then tap on the Recognize button (recog) to recognize it, and tap on the correct character in the Character Box to copy it to the Input Field. There are also Undo (undo) and Clear (clear) buttons just as on the other screen, along with a Backspace (backspace) button to delete the last character entered. You can resize this just like the Entry List by dragging the separator bar.

At the bottom left corner of the screen is the Input Mode button (hwr rad key); tap on that button to switch to fullscreen handwriting input:

hwrfullpal hwrfullpalm

In this mode, instead of drawing characters in a box you can draw them anywhere in the Definition Field (or the Entry List if it's in fullscreen mode). Tap on the ON on button to temporarily disable the handwriting recognizer in order to tap on / highlight text; if you enable the "Disable fullscreen after input" option in the Input panel of Preferences, the button will automatically switch to OFF off after you finish drawing a character. When you start drawing a character, the definition text fades to gray and the three buttons visible in the above screenshot are replaced by Recognize / Undo / Clear, like this:

hwrfullpaldraw hwrfullwritingpalm


Tap on the Input Mode button again to switch to radical input:

radpal radpalpalm

This works exactly like the separate Radical Input screen; tap on the Radical Box at the top left corner to bring up the list of a radicals, tap on a radical to select it, then scroll to / tap on the correct character to copy it to the Input Field. The Stroke List is located just below the Radical Box.


Tap on the Input Mode button one more time to switch to keyboard input:

keypal keypalpalm

Tap on a letter in the keyboard to enter it in the Input Field. The E/P/Z (or EN/PY/ZY) buttons toggle between English, Pinyin, and Zhuyin keyboard layouts.


You can also tap-hold on the Input Mode button to pop a list that lets you instantly jump to handwriting / radical / keyboard input without having to cycle through them separately.


Toolbar / Layout

Several additional interface customizations are available only through the Preferences screen. The Toolbar panel in Preferences lets you configure exactly which buttons are on the Command Bar / Search Bar at the top of the screen, how many of them there are, and in what order; several dozen different buttons are available, see Toolbar and Menu Commands below for a description of each.

Both the Toolbar and Layout Preferences panels also provide the option to reconfigure the screen when it's oriented in landscape mode (long) instead of portrait mode (tall), useful on handhelds with slide-out keyboards or automatic screen rotation features. With "Change layout in landscape mode" enabled, you can have the Input Palette / Entry List appear (or not appear) in one location in one screen mode and a different location in the other. Another useful layout option is "Hide ... on small screen;" this causes Pleco to temporarily hide the Input Palette (or Entry List) when you open your handheld's onscreen keyboard, making it easy to flip between that and the Input Palette.


Toolbar and Menu Commands

Pleco has many more built-in functions than can be fit on an onscreen toolbar, so some options are only available through the menu bar. To bring up the menu bar on a Palm OS handheld, tap on the Menu button in the top right corner of the screen. On a Windows Mobile handheld, the menu bar is located at the bottom of the screen and is always visible. Windows Mobile 2003 handhelds have a slightly different menu bar than handhelds running Windows Mobile 5 or 6, so we include separate menu names for both in the table below. You can change which set of commands are accessible through the Command Bar / Search Bar using the Toolbar panel in Preferences.

Here's a list of all of the toolbar and menu commands available in Pleco, along with their icons (some commands can have more than one icon depending on your settings), menu locations, and a brief description of what each one does.

Name WM2003 WM5/6 Palm Description
Switch Language Dict Dict / Dict Dict Switch between English and Chinese searches
Switch Dictionary Dict Dict / Dict Dict Switch between dictionaries
Toggle List Mode Dict Dict / Dict Dict Switch Entry List between Dict and Results mode
Toggle Simp/Trad Chars Dict Dict / Dict Dict Switch between simplified and traditional characters
Full-text Search Dict Dict / Dict Dict Enable / disable full-text search
Back Dict Dict / Dict Dict Go back to the previous dictionary entry in the history
Forward Dict Dict / Dict Dict Go forward to the next dictionary entry in the history
Play Audio Edit Dict / Dict Dict Play an audio recording for the current entry
Preferences Dict Dict Dict Open Pleco's Preferences screen
Manage Dicts Dict Dict Dict Reorganize and enable/disable dictionaries
Quit Dict Dict --- Unload Pleco completely (Windows Mobile only)
Cut Edit Dict / Edit Edit Copy selected text to clipboard and delete it
Copy Edit Dict / Edit Edit Copy selected text to clipboard but don't delete it
Paste Edit Dict / Edit Edit Paste in text from the clipboard
Clear Edit Dict / Edit Edit Clear the contents of the Input Field
Input Text... Edit Dict / Edit Edit Bring up the Input screen to enter characters
Copy to Input Field Edit Dict / Edit Edit Copy selected text to the Input Field
Open Flashcards... Modules Modules Modules Launch the built-in flashcard system
Add To Flashcards Modules Modules Modules Create a flashcard from the current dictionary entry
Open Reader... Modules Modules Modules Launch the built-in document reader
Send Entry To Reader... Modules Modules Modules View the current dictionary entry in the document reader
Character Info... Modules Modules Modules Bring up info & stroke order for the selected character
Pop-up Definition... Modules Modules Modules Pop up a dictionary definition for the selected text
Add/Edit Custom Entry Modules Modules Modules Add an entry to the user dictionary (or edit one)
Delete Custom Entry Modules Modules Modules Delete an existing user dictionary entry
Ordering... Dict Dict About Show purchase info, installed dicts, and System ID
About... Dict Dict About Show copyright and version info
Backspace --- --- --- Delete the character to the left of the cursor
Search --- --- --- Search immediately (skip the search delay)
Prev Entry --- --- --- Go to the previous entry in the dictionary / search results
Next Entry --- --- --- Go to the next entry in the dictionary / search results
Magnify Chars --- --- --- Bring up magnified versions of the selected characters
Toggle List --- --- --- Open / close the Entry List
input ncinput
Toggle Input --- --- --- Open the Input screen or open/close the Input Palette
Handwriting --- --- --- Open the Input screen/palette in Handwriting mode
Radical --- --- --- Open the Input screen/palette in Radical mode
Keyboard --- --- --- Open the Input screen/palette in Keyboard mode
Fullscreen Mode --- --- --- Hide the top / bottom menu bars (Windows Mobile only)
Menu --- --- --- Show the Palm OS menu bar (Palm OS only)
Font Size --- --- --- Switch between small and large fonts (Palm OS only)


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