“CSW” vs. “NWL”: The Difference Between These Scrabble Dictionaries

“CSW” vs. “NWL”: The Difference Between These Scrabble Dictionaries

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Stumped with a lousy set of letters? Well, you may need to rely on a Scrabble word list to make sense of those letter combinations and see which words are allowed and which are just made up.

So, which online Scrabble dictionary is the right one to use? If you’ve already searched for one, you may have seen some sets of letters that look like illegal Scrabble plays themselves. NWL and CSW are two of the most popular, and it’s not too hard to decide which of these is right for you (or right for your score) once you learn more about them.

What Is the Scrabble NWL Dictionary? 

An excellent place to start if you’re getting into competitive Scrabble in the United States is the North American Scrabble Players Association’s own NASPA Word List (NWL). It was founded in 2009 by John Chew and Chris Cree.

The NWL has been the standard dictionary used in tournament Scrabble in the United States and Canada since 2019. It’s currently on its second version, known as NWL2020.

Although it is sometimes called a dictionary, the NWL does not contain any definitions of words. It just features words and their point values for Scrabble.

The NWL began as the Official Tournament and Club Word List (OWL), a tool used by professional Scrabble players to keep a consistent ruleset across North American tournaments. Over the years, as the official Scrabble dictionary added words slowly, the OWL added large sets of words from various sources, including Merriam-Webster and the Oxford English dictionaries.

How Many Words Does NWL Have?

The NWL2020 has 191,852 words after 250+ offensive words were removed from the NWL2018 to make competitive Scrabble more inviting and inclusive.

The NWL is considered a “competitive” Scrabble dictionary because it contains more words than Scrabble’s official dictionary. The NWL contains:

  • All words from the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary (OSPD)

  • Some of the words that were removed from the OSPD for being offensive

  • Certain trademarked words and titles

  • Words greater than nine letters (not included in the OSPD)

  • Some plural forms of words

What Is the Scrabble CSW Dictionary?

CSW stands for Collins Scrabble Words. The CSW is a tournament dictionary used in professional Scrabble in nearly every country. However, the United States and Canada are notable exceptions.

The CSW is considered the most comprehensive and expansive Scrabble dictionary, containing words from English dialects and slang from numerous countries worldwide. Similar to the NWL, this word list does not contain any definitions.

Several word lists were used worldwide before they were brought together under one banner in the 2000s in a list of words from the Chambers dictionary that combined many of the accepted word lists of the time. The chambers list would eventually be handed over to the Collins dictionary, leading to the current version of the CSW.

How Many Words Does CSW Have?

CSW22 has 279,077 words. In January of 2022, Collins removed 419 words they deemed to be hate speech or offensive.

Here are some of the notable inclusions the CSW uses that the NWL does not:

  • Extra two-letter words

  • Additional plural versions of words

  • Almost every word in the NWL

  • Almost every word in the OSPD

  • British English versions of words

  • Some proper names

  • Some trademarked terms

What About the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary?

Despite having over 100,000 words and being the only Scrabble dictionary sponsored by Hasbro, the company behind Scrabble, the OSPD is still not used for competitive play. 

The OSPD is helpful, though, particularly as a teaching tool and for casual play. The OSPD is frequently updated with small sets of modern words and slang, including bae, guac, and adulting. In contrast, the CSW and AWL may only be updated every few years, but with larger sets of words overall.

The OSPD also has the distinction of being the only one of the three to have definitions for words, meaning it can be used as a regular dictionary in schools and for work. You can learn something new while throwing down pieces in an intense game of Scrabble.

Which Scrabble Dictionary Is Used in Scrabble Go?

Scrabble Go has three different English dictionaries a player can choose from in their profile preferences. These options include:

  • English - US: Merriam Webster and NWL 2018

  • English - UK: Collins official Scrabble Dictionary, digital edition 2019

If you’re an avid Scrabble Go player, and you live in the US, you may want to use the NWL as your official dictionary. OSPD is also a viable option and aligns with the Merriam-Webster dictionary option.

If you use UK English, then CSW is the option for you.

How To Choose Which Scrabble Dictionary To Use

So which Scrabble dictionary should you choose to settle all of your arguments? Well, it’s all about your competition level in the game.

Suppose you play Scrabble GO casually with friends and family or you play games like Scrabble such as Words with Friends. In these cases, the OSPD is a good option because it’s relatively comprehensive and allows you to use modern buzzwords. However, as we mentioned above, Scrabble GO does allow players to use NWL (US English) and CSW (UK English) too.

If you plan to play the game competitively at a local level in North America, or if you want to dip your toe into competitive Scrabble, the NWL is your best bet.

But if you’re looking to enter the competitive scene outside of North America or you want to try and become a worldwide champion, the CSW is the most comprehensive and widely used option across the world.
One Last Tip: You may also want to use a Scrabble word finder to find winning words using your letter tiles. Our Scrabble solver provides the words you can play. Then, you decide which words you should play. Scrabble helpers can also check for the validity of the word and the number of points it’ll score.

Jakob is a content writer from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He holds a B.A. in Mass Media and Journalism and is currently studying to receive his M.A. in Strategic Communication. In addition to writing about linguistics and etymology for YourDictionary, Jakob writes and podcasts professionally about culture, arts and entertainment, and history.


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