Ibn Duraid was born at what was then called "Salih street" in Basra during the reign of the Abbasid caliph Al-Mu'tasim; the year is sometimes given as 838. While his immediate tribe was Azd, he preferred to identify himself as a Qahtanite, the larger confederacy of which Azd is a part. The modern-day descendants of his tribe are the Zahran tribe residing primarily in the Al Bahah Region of Saudi Arabia. Here he was trained under various teachers, but fled in 871 to Oman at the time Basra was attacked by the Zanj, under Muhallabi. Surprisingly, Ibn Duraid was also said to have been a practicing physician though no works on medical science have survived.
After living twelve years in Oman he went to Persia, then under the protection of the governor Abd-Allah Mikali and his sons, and wrote his chief works. Abd-Allah also hired Ibn Duraid as the director of the government office for Fars Province, though the latter donated the entirety of his salary to poor people each time it was paid, keeping almost nothing for himself while in Persia. In 920 he went to Baghdad, where he received a pension of fifty dinars a month from the caliph Al-Muqtadir in support of his literary activities which continued to his death. While in Baghdad, Ibn Duraid was a personal acquaintance of Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari.
By the time he was ninety years old, he was stricken with paralysis which he reportedly cured with theriac. A year later the palsy returned, such that Ibn Duraid could only move his hands and would cry out in pain whenever anyone entered his room, even if they didn't approach him. Some of his students attributed this to a divine punishment for Ibn Duraid's heavy alcohol consumption. He was said to have retained all his mental faculties during his final paralysis, and was frequently given to self-loathing monologues due to his previous lifestyle.
Ibn Duraid died on a Wednesday in August of 933, while in mid-sentence answering a question from one of his students. He was buried on the east bank of the Tigris River in the Abbasiya cemetery, his tomb being right next to the old arms bazaar by the main street. He died on the same day as the son of philosopher Al-Jubba'i, who was also a philosopher like his father, and some of the people of Baghdad said "philology and theology have died on this day!"
The Maqsurah, a poem praising Abd-Allah and his son Abu'l-Abbas Ismail, has been edited by A. Haitsma (1773), E. Scheidius (1786), and N. Boyesen (1828). Various commentaries on the poem exist in manuscript (cf. C. Brockelmann, Gesch. der Arab. lit., i. 211 ff., Weimar, 1898). Another work is the Kitab ul-Ishtiqaq ("Etymology"), edited by F. Wüstenfeld (Göttingen, 1854); it was the first book written in opposition to the Shu'ubiyya movement to show the etymological connection of the Arabian tribal names. His famed collection of forty stories have often been remarked on and parts are even contained in larger works of later authors, though the full original work is lost. Perhaps drawing on his family's Omani roots, some of Ibn Duraid's poetry contained dinstinctly Omani themes.
The Jamhara fi 'l-lugha is a large dictionary written in Arabic. His original handwritten work was three volumes, with the last volume consisting mostly of an extensive index. It was later published in Hyderabad, India in four volumes between 1926 and 1930. Ibn Duraid also broke with the tradition of Al-Khalil ibn Ahmad al-Farahidi consisting of arranging the dictionary according to the part of the throat the letters are pronounced from, instead standardizing the organization of his own dictionary based on the alphabet order of Semitic languages. Due to Ibn Duraid's efforts with the second Arabic dictionary, however, historian Al-Masudi still considered him to be the intellectual heir of al-Farahidi, the author of the first Arabic dictionary. While Ibn Duraid's dictionary does resemble al-Farahidi's, it also has a confusing and disorganized system of classification and locating desired words alphabetically is difficult.
There was a measure of controversy surrounding the dictionary. Niftawayh, a contemporary of Ibn Duraid's, alleged that the latter's dictionary was merely a plagiarized version of al-Farahidi's dictionary Kitab al-'Ayn.