Spell Check and Dictionaries

Learning Objectives

  • Correct spelling and grammar errors.
There is a section of text from Shakespeare's Hamlet. There are green lines underneath portions of text representing a grammatical error detection. A dropdown menu has been opened to the right of the text. The dropdown menu lists four options.

As the screenshot above demonstrates, Spell Check and Grammar Check are potentially useful tools, but very fallible ones.

You’ve probably seen the angry red wavy lines indicating a misspelled word as you type a document. Sometimes, those red lines may have been helpful, saving you from making an embarrassing typo. Other times, those red lines are just annoying and distracting. In this section, we will cover how Spellcheck works and how you can best use it to your advantage.

How Spell Checker Works

Three sentences of text.

At top, the American English dictionary won’t recognize correctly spelled British English words. At bottom, Word’s dictionary may highlight correct words not included in its dictionary.

The spell checker tool compares every word you type against its dictionary, or database of words. If a word isn’t in its dictionary, the word is marked misspelled with a red underline. This means words that are correctly spelled may be marked as misspelled, especially brand names, specialized industry or scientific terms, and words in another language. With a little tweaking, you can teach Microsoft Word (and other Office programs) how to spell uncommon words and names you use regularly. That way, genuine mistakes are not lost in a sea of red underlines.

Practice Question


Adding Words to the Dictionary

The simplest method to add words to the dictionary is to right-click the marked word and select Add. If you do not wish to add the word but do not want to see the red line, you can select Ignore or Ignore All. (Ignore ignores that word once; Ignore All ignores the word through the entire document.)

One sentence of text with a dropdown menu giving you the option to correct a grammatical error in the sentence.

Keep in mind that adding a word to the dictionary will not necessarily add all versions of that word. For example, after adding iPad to the dictionary, the dictionary will still not recognize iPads.

The good news is that adding a word to the Microsoft Word dictionary will also add it to the dictionary for other Office products such as Excel and PowerPoint.

The dictionary is case-sensitive. Adding iPad will not add ipad (a good thing, since ipad is incorrect). Keep this in mind if the word you want to add to the dictionary is capitalized because it is at the beginning of a sentence.

Screenshot of two sentences with the word googling, one at the beginning of the sentence and one in the middle. Both instances of Googling are marked misspelled by the spell checker. The screenshots show adding the capitalized Googling to the dictionary does not add the lowercase googling to the dictionary.

Adding the capitalized form of the word will not add the lowercase form of the word. To get around this, add the lowercase word to the dictionary first.

Keep in mind that adding a word adds it to whichever language dictionary you are using. For example, adding “c’est la vie” to the dictionary tells Microsoft Word that “c’est la vie” is an English word. That may be nice for the occasional borrowed term, but it will get overwhelming if you find yourself using a lot of foreign words not typically used in English vernacular. We will cover other language dictionaries later in this section.

Bonus: Switching Language Dictionaries

You can switch your dictionary to a different language. Go to Tools > Dictionary, Dictionary, and choose a different language.

Text in both English and Spanish, with underlining on most of the Spanish words.

A passage of bilingual text using the American English dictionary.

Text in both English and Spanish, with underlining on most of the English words.

A passage of bilingual text using the Spanish dictionary.

Grammar Check

Grammar check works much like spell check, searching through your document for grammatical and style errors rather than spelling errors. Grammar check underlines words or phrases in blue or green, depending on your version of Word.

 One sentence of text with a grammatical error.  One sentence of text with a grammatical error.

Right-click on the underlined word or phrase to see suggested corrections. You can also choose Ignore, Ignore Once, or Ignore All if the “error” is actually correct. Like spell check, grammar check is prone to errors. In some versions of Word, you may see an Ignore Rule or “Don’t check for this issue” option. Clicking Ignore Rule will make Grammar check ignore that specific grammar rule in your document while still looking for other grammar errors.

One sentence of text with a grammatical error. A word has been misspelled and a dropdown menu to replace that word is open. One sentence of text with a grammatical error. A word has been misspelled and a dropdown menu to replace that word is open. This menu gives several options such as cut, copy and paste, as well as grammar, smart lookup and translate.

Practice Question