Language and Dictionaries in MS Word

A quick look at your dictionary options in Word

Even if you, like me, only speak one language there are still some powerful language and dictionary options in Word to keep in mind.

All copies of Microsoft Office (recent versions anyway) come with English dictionaries. ‘Dictionaries’ plural because there’s many variants supplied. You’d expect English (US) and English (UK) but there’s many others available:

  • Australia
  • Belize
  • Canada
  • Caribbean
  • Hong Kong
  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Ireland
  • Jamaica
  • Malaysia
  • New Zealand
  • Philippines
  • Singapore
  • South Africa
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
  • Zimbabwe

Of course, all language variants have a lot of common spellings but differences like the common ones color/colour etc. and less well known ones like spelled/spelt.

Other languages that are included with the ‘English’ version of Office are French and Spanish – with a similarly large number of variations including French for France and Canadian Quebecois.

To get the languages supplied with your version of Office, go to Control Panel | Programs and Features (or similar in earlier versions of Windows), choose Microsoft Office and then change settings. You’ll repeat some of the installation steps including Customize where you can find and select additional languages or features available in that language.

Usually the appropriate one for you is chosen automatically during setup. The Office installation picks up your region setting from Windows to choose the default language in Word. But that’s not always correct. Sometimes Windows has the wrong region setting, most commonly with the US defaults applied when you don’t live there. That will result in Word having the English (US) dictionary by default. Happily that’s easy to change.

Changing the default language

To change Word’s default language, go to Review | Language | Set Proofing Language

Word - set language image from Language and Dictionaries in MS Word at

Then choose the language you want from the long list. Not all languages on the list are installed on your computer. Look for the ‘ABC’ icon on the left to see which languages are installed. In this example you can see that the English and French languages are installed but not the few in-between on the alphabetical list.

Word - language list image from Language and Dictionaries in MS Word at

To change the default language, click on the language you want then click ‘Set as Default’.

Word - language list - choose default image from Language and Dictionaries in MS Word at

You’ll then see a message for you to confirm the change and remind you which template will be affected. That’s usually the ‘Normal’ template which is the basis for blank documents and sometimes others.

Word - change default language warning image from Language and Dictionaries in MS Word at


Word templates can store a default language for documents based on that template. If you write documents in different languages you could create a template for each language eg Normal-English.dotx Normal-French.dotx etc.


You can change the language (for spelling and thesaurus purposes) within a document. For example, if you have a letter with both English and Spanish sections – Word can spell check each using the right dictionary.

These days, Word has an ‘autodetect’ feature which should figure out which language is being typed and change the dictionary. But sometimes it doesn’t work or you want a specific language variant (e.g. Spanish (Spain) or Spanish (Mexico) instead of Spanish (US) ).

Select the paragraphs or just words in the ‘other’ language. Go to Review | Language | Set Proofing Language from the long list. You can select a language that isn’t installed on your computer – Word will keep the language setting even though it can’t spell or grammar check it.

No Proofing

Sometimes there’s technical text or details that Word can’t understand – i.e. there’s red squiggly lines all over the place. A common example is programming code.

You can stop the spell checking for selected words or paragraphs by choosing Review | Language | Set Proofing Language and selecting ‘Do not check spelling or grammar’. This is the same as the special ‘No Proofing’ language in earlier versions of Word.


You can set the language as part of a style – either paragraph or character style. That’s handy when you have many paragraphs in a different language from the majority of the document.

For example, a style for formatting computer code might be in a fixed space font like Courier New plus the ‘Do not check spelling or grammar’ option under Language in the Styles options.

Make your own dictionary

As I’m sure most people know, you can add words to the Word dictionary (actually a separate custom.dic dictionary). Choose a word which has a red line underneath, right-mouse click and choose ‘Add to dictionary) then the word is recognized as correct in that document and other documents.

Interface language vs. document language

We’ve been talking here about the dictionary language used in Office for spell check, grammar, thesaurus and hyphenation of documents.

There’s another language option for the text on labels and menus – the interface language. Usually that’s automatically selected according to the specific software you bought or selection made when downloading. However it is possible to change interface language with optional packs from Microsoft.

That’s it for the moment, there’s a lot more detail in the Word language support but that’s the highlights.

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