Office For Mac

Kurt’s Power Tip #4: Spell Check 101

This week’s Power Tip is about spell check – functionality that is in all four of the main Office for Mac 2011 applications – and how to enable it and disable it in certain special situations. I’ll share some examples later in this post.

To start off with some background, the spell check functionality in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint is implemented in an Office-specific, suite-wide tool. However, the same spell check in Outlook uses functionality built into Mac OS X. While the basic features of these two spell check tools are the same, many of the details are different – this week’s tip applies only to the Office-specific spell check in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Let me know if you’re interested and I’ll share more on Outlook spell check for a future Power Tip.

Not surprisingly, most Office users are familiar with spell checking since they see the red or green squiggles underneath text that indicate a possible spelling error (red) or a possible grammar error (green):

The special situation I mentioned earlier is when your document contains text in multiple languages, like this passage from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry:

Notice that the Word spell check has indicated that almost every word in the French passage is a potential spelling error. This is because Word has invoked the US English spell check for both paragraphs in the figure above. To spell check the French passage – and to get rid of all these annoying red squiggles – I need to let Word know that the first paragraph of these passage is in French. You’ll find that when the language of a text passage is correctly set, Word will automatically invoke the correct spell check. Adjust your own setting by going to the Language… menu item on the Tools menu in Word. (And in similar locations in Excel and PowerPoint.) Given that this is an example of a Word feature that is not in the ribbon, you need to access this from the Word menus.

Choosing the Language… menu item presents the Language dialog for setting the language property of the selected text:

After setting this to French, Word will automatically invoke the French spell check for the first paragraph and yet continue to invoke the default English spell check for the remaining paragraph, removing all the red and green squiggles:

Let’s try to use this tip for the following passage, which students of Latin will recognize as the opening words of The Gallic Wars by Julius Caesar:

Using the Language dialog I try to set the language property of the first paragraph:

only to find that Latin is not a supported language in Word 2011.

Typically, we don’t reveal plans for any updates to future version of Office for Mac, but today I am going to break that rule. I can tell you that MacBU has absolutely no plans to add Latin spell check in any future version of Office for Mac. So, what can be done about all those annoying red squiggles?

The secret to getting rid of them is the second part of this week’s tip: Use the “Do not check spelling or grammar” checkbox in the Language dialog to disable spell check for this small portion of Latin text:

After doing so, the red squiggles disappear:

Now, you have everything you need to know to avoid being haunted by those troublesome red and green squiggles. Let me know if you find it helpful in writing papers, creating PowerPoint presentations or tallying up figures in Excel. See you again next week!

-Kurt Schmucker, Office for Mac Evangelist

March 24th, 2011
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  1. John Doe says:

    Great blog, thanks for the helpful tips!

  2. Marc says:

    The spell check function in Office is amazing! I love it, way better than the OS one.

    However, there’s a catch, Outlook uses the OS functionality, and because of that I can’t use, for instance, Catalan spelling correction. I would love to see the Office system for spell checking also implemented in Outlook for Mac.

    Great suite BTW, I specially love Word and Excel!

  3. Xavier Pozuelo says:

    Absolutly love the new 2011 suite! And thanks for this posts, they really help out!

    I never write comments but I made an excepcion today just so you know how appreciated thoese posts are.


  4. Nicolas Sheard says:

    How do I set the “automatic spell check before sending” in Outlook?

  5. Cameron Bales says:

    Does the new Office 2011 have a “Canadian English” spelling dictionary yet? I’ve been looking for this feature since Word Mac 4.0 and for most of that time it has been available to Word for Windows.

    Is there a way to edit/create/import a Canadian English spelling dictionary?

  6. Kurt Schmucker says:

    @Cameron: Yes, there are the following choices of language in the Language dialog box: English (AUS), English (CAN), English (UK), and English (US).

  7. Kurt Schmucker says:

    @Nicolas: There is no “Spell check before sending” option in Outlook for Mac 2011. You can have spell check automatically run while are typing, or you can run spell check on a entire email. These options are set via the Spelling and Grammar menu item in the Edit menu in Outlook. Also from that menu item you can change various settings in the Spell Check built into the Mac OS.

  8. Kurt Schmucker says:

    @Marc: You can enable or disable various languages in Spell Check built into the Mac OS. To do so, use the Spelling and Grammar menu item on the Edit menu in Outlook to Show Spelling and Grammar, and then in the dialog that is displayed, choose the Open Text Preferences menu item in the menu at the bottom of the dialog. This will open the Mac OS System Preferences for Languages and Text. Choose Languages, and you will see the language list supported by the Mac OS.
    You will see that Catalan is not a choice. You can add Catalan by using the Edit List … button at the bottom of this window. This will add Catalan support to Outlook.

  9. Belalang says:

    Great article. However, it doesn’t fix the spell check problem that I have with certain .doc files.

    For certain specific .doc or .docx files (not all files — very perplexing!!), Microsoft Word 2011 for Mac generates the message “Word cannot start the spelling checker. The spelling checker files may be missing. Make sure the spelling checker files are installed or use the Microsoft Office Installer to install the spelling checker.”

    The dialog box pops up repeatedly and all I could do is to Force Quit my Word.

    In fact, the spell check is properly installed actually since it’s working for other .doc documents.

    Recommended solution in the forum is to Un-tick “Check Spelling as you type” & Un-tick “Check Grammar as you type”. Not a good permanent solution, huh?

  10. Kurt Schmucker says:

    @Belalang: The issue with “Word cannot start the spelling checker …” is fixed in Office for Mac 2011 Service Pack 1 (SP1) which will be released next week. After you install that service pack, you will no longer need the solution you mentioned from the Forums.

  11. Carrie says:

    Like 2011 suite,,thanks for your post and sharing.
    MBT Shoes

  12. Benjamin Amsaleg says:


    Great article… I hope you will try to do the same in Powerpoint!
    - Frustrating to find that the default language is on the top of the list and can not be found by typing the first letters
    - what a nightmare to “change the language” of a slide… text in smart object… need to do it again. create new slide,… oops reverting to previous language… sometime.. not always… never understood.

    Going back and forth in languages all day… aarg, not way to assign a command shortcut of “US Englush”, another one to Spanish or French…

    Take care


  13. Robby says:

    I can’t even make spell check work for any of my documents. Any suggestions?

  14. Paul Woods says:

    How do I increase the text size in the spelling checker for Office 2011 for Mac?

  15. magoo says:

    Word 2003 for Windows (and may be even earlier versions) are able to automatically detect the language looking at the words in the text, and then select the correct spell checker accordingly.
    And this works even if a text contains passages in multiple languages.

    I am frustrated by the fact that even after three Office for Mac updates (2004 – 2008 – 2011) they are still not able to give us that same feature on the Mac version.

    The example in above tutorial showing the text passage from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry simply tells us that as Mac users, we still need to select the language manually. Frustrating!

  16. Cameron Bales says:

    Is there a way to take the Canadian English spelling dictionary from Word 2011 and install it in Entourage 2008?

    I need to use Entourage for Exchange 2003 computability.

  17. zoe says:

    Thank You!!
    I could not get word to recognise french as a language but when i followed your steps it suddenly worked…

  18. Andrew says:

    For the next version of Office, it would be incredibly useful if you could adopt the same solution as Mac OS X (since 10.6) and InDesign have for supporting obscure languages: namely, adding support for Hunspell dictionaries. Together with providing the same options for languages as Office 2010 has, this would enable you to check spelling not only in Latin, but many other languages as well. Further, if you simply detected the user-installed dictionaries for Mac OS X (in Library/Spelling), it wouldn’t even involve additional work for the user.

    Thanks for all of your fantastic work!

  19. Alice says:

    I would very much like info on Outlook 2011 spelling checker. I currently am having several contractions (“wouldn’t,” “shouldn’t,” “couldn’t” are at least two of them) come up as misspelled, and it does not let me ignore or learn. They do not come up as misspelled in Word, however. I tested on a coworker’s computer and it was working fine. I tried using all the same settings as his, and still mine gave those words as misspelled. I have seen this problem in the forums but no one has had a proper fix to the problem that I could see.

    Additionally, another coworker had her spell checker not showing any misspelled words. I checked my Spelling and Grammar settings against hers and they were exactly the same, but the same words in my Outlook message were underlined, while her’s weren’t. Her “check spelling while typing” was not ticked, so I ticked it and voila! However, mine was not ticked, and was working anyway. So I ticked mine, then unticked it and none of my misspelled words were coming up as misspelled. So now I’ve ticked it and all is good again. Just very strange.

    Both examples above were on computers that were using Entourage and identities were exported into Outlook 2011. If you can devote a post to Outlook spelling problems, it would be great and hopefully answer my contraction problem.

    Thanks for the great blog!

  20. Iren says:

    Can anyone help me out.

    Spell check works only for Russian however when I type something in English it wouldn’t underline the wrong spelling and has no synonyms for the words.

    Thanx in advance

  21. Joe says:

    I found your blog by searching Google. I have been trying to figure out how to set my Mac Word dictionary to English (Australia) for months! I knew how to do it on Microsoft Word but not on Mac Word. Your post helped me figure it out FINALLY. Now it doesn’t tell me I’ve spelt words like “summarise” incorrectly. THANK YOU!