THE internet has replaced many reference books as the first port of call for fact-checking – and now one of the UK's leading dictionary publishers is to embrace the online world.

The Collins Dictionary, founded in Scotland nearly 200 years ago, is to be made available free online at a dedicated website for the first time.

Internet users who visit can check spellings and definitions by accessing 120,000 dictionary entries. This will then rise to 220,000 entries by March.

The site, developed at HarperCollins's headquarters in Bishopbriggs, East Dunbartonshire, will also offer 350,000 translations of the most frequently used English words in 35 languages.

The new dictionary site has been developed over 18 months by the editorial team in Glasgow, where print editions of Collins English Dictionary and other reference titles will continue to be produced.

Harper Collins's head of digital Alex Brown said: "We are extremely proud of this new online tool for lovers and users of the English language everywhere.

"This is part of an ongoing strategy to make Collins's content available to as wide an audience as possible through new digital media."

Dictionaries, like other reference books, are rapidly being overtaken by the use of the internet for checking facts, figures and spellings.

Last year, Nigel Portwood, chief executive of the Oxford University Press, which publishes the Oxford English Dictionary, said the "print dictionary market is just disappearing".

"It is falling away by tens of percent a year," he said, adding printed dictionaries had a shelf life of about another 30 years, with the market increasingly dominated by popular e-books and devices such as the Apple iPad and Amazon's Kindle.

With the new Collins online dictionary there will be a million audio pronunciations, as well as translations of English words in other languages.

Each definition will be accompanied by a word frequency graph which "demonstrates the historical and contemporary popularity of the word over the last 500 years."

Mr Brown said: "It's been a privilege to bring together the world's best language specialists and lexicographers with a leading digital agency to create

"We've brought together the web designers' creativity with our own experience of language and how it's used to create a really nice, user-friendly but sharply designed website."

William Collins and Sons was founded in Glasgow in 1819 and published a range of bibles, atlases, dictionaries and other titles, later including classic authors HG Wells, Agatha Christie, JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis.

William Collins, from Glasgow, set up the company for printing and publishing pamphlets, sermons, hymn books and prayer books.

The first book he published was the Christian and Civic Economy of Large Towns.

The original Harper Brothers Company was established in New York City in 1817 and over the years published the works of Mark Twain, the Bronte sisters, Thackeray, Dickens, John F Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1987, Harper and Row, as it had then become, was acquired by News Corporation.

The worldwide publishing group, HarperCollins, was formed following News Corp's 1990 acquisition of William Collins and Sons.