Adding repeating words or phrases to the custom dictionary


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Why can’t you add repeating words or phrases to the Microsoft Word custom dictionary?

Word’s custom dictionary can’t handle repeating words or phrases and it should. While we wait for Microsoft to catch up there are limited options available.

Microsoft Word’s custom dictionary only lets you add single words to its list. Anything that’s separated by a space can be added to the list but won’t be checked.

That’s a simple but sad fact that Microsoft doesn’t like to talk about. You’ll see plenty of lame workarounds online but rarely will you see an admission of this glaring limitation in Word.

There are many situations where you’d like Word to mark a word as incorrectly spelled but consider it OK when next to another word.

Repeating words are the most obvious example. The phrase ‘Paw Paw ‘ isn’t a spelling error but Word will mark it as one. ‘Wagga Wagga’ (a place name in Australia) and ‘Walla Walla’ in the USA are other examples.

There are also words which should be marked as a spelling error except when combined with another word. For example ‘Mornington’ is usually a spelling error except when you type ‘Mornington Crescent’ (a London tube station and long-standing BBC Radio 4 joke).

Latin phrases like ‘annus horribilis’ you might like to add as a phrase but either of the word used alone triggers a spelling error.

You should be able to add ‘Paw Paw’ and ‘Mornington Crescent’ etc to the Word custom dictionary (Word 2007/2010: Options | Proofing | Custom Dictionaries or in earlier versions Tools | Options | Spelling & Grammar | Custom Dictionaries).

Alas while Word will let you enter multiple words as an entry, it doesn’t make any difference to what Word marks as a spelling error.


Workarounds

There are some workarounds available. Frankly they aren’t very satisfactory and we’re reluctant to even mention them. However they are widely given as ‘fixes’ for Word’s shortcomings so we’ll mention them here.

You can mark any word or phrase as exempt from spelling checking. Right-click on any misspelled word (with the red squiggly line) and choose either ‘Ignore’ or ‘Ignore All’. This only works for a single document.

Similarly you could select a phrase and mark it as exempt from spelling checking. Select a word/phrase, right-click then choose ‘Language’ ‘Set Proofing Language’ then ‘Do not check spelling and grammar’. This applies only to the selected text.

You could turn off the ‘Flag repeating words’ dictionary option (Word 2007/2010 only: Options | Proofing) but that affects all documents and any repeating words.

 

We see suggestions that using a Non-breaking space will help but it doesn’t. You can force Word to consider a phrase as a single word using the non-breaking or hard space (shortcut: Ctrl + Shift + Space). This appears as a space but Word considers the words either side as part of a single word. So far, so good but Word won’t then add that ‘single word’ to the custom dictionary. The non-breaking space can’t be included in the custom dictionary.

 

The real solution is for Microsoft to devote some of its considerable resources to fixing this shortcoming in Word. There’s no good reason for the status quo (another example). The only thing lacking is the will of Microsoft to do something useful for customers.

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