Specifying a Language for Text

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated August 12, 2020)


Word includes many tools to make your writing better. A few of the tools make use of specialized dictionaries; for instance, the grammar and spelling checker. You can pick a language to be used on either a single paragraph, or on all instances of a particular paragraph style. To change which language is used for a particular paragraph, follow these steps:

  1. Select the paragraphs or defined style for which you want to change the language.
  2. Display the Review tab of the ribbon.
  3. If you are using Word 2007 click the Set Language tool in the Proofing group. If you are using Word 2010 or a later version, click the Language tool in the Language group and then click Set Proofing Language. Word displays the Language dialog box. (See Figure 1.)
  4. Figure 1. The Language dialog box.

  5. Select a language from those in the language list.
  6. Click on OK.

If you want to specify that all paragraphs formatted with a particular style use a certain language, then follow these steps:

  1. Display the Home tab of the ribbon.
  2. Click the small icon at the bottom-right of the Styles group. Word displays the Styles pane at the right side of the desktop.
  3. In the list of styles, make sure the style you want to change is visible.
  4. Hover the mouse pointer over the name of the style you want to change. Notice that a downward-pointing arrow appears at the right side of the style name.
  5. Click on the downward-pointing arrow and choose the Modify option from the resulting menu. Word displays the Modify Style dialog box.
  6. Click on the Format button, then choose the Language option. Word displays the Language dialog box.
  7. Select a language from those in the language list.
  8. Click on OK, then on OK again.
  9. Close the Styles pane.

Any paragraphs currently using the style you specified in step 4 (or any paragraphs to which you apply that style in the future) will be formatted for the language you picked in step 7.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (5938) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Word in Microsoft 365.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...


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What is 3 - 3?

2021-05-07 15:09:11


I need to do spellcheck in a minortiy language of Turu. I Created a turu.dic file and added that as a custom dictionary. The problem is "How do I select the Language of Turu?" when it is not in the language list? How can I add to that language to the list of languages?

2020-11-10 03:41:48


I don't can't replicate your problem in losing the language setting of individual words in Word 2010 and Word 2016. What version are you using?

2020-11-09 03:50:24

Dario de Judicibus

Thank you for your detailed explanation, Ken. The point is that, as many European writers, I often have in my works more than one language. For example, foreign citations. In such a case, I am used to give to each language a well-defined style in any case. Same for foreign words. I try to use as much as possible styles, rather than applying properties to paragraphs and terms because different publishers may require different styles, and if I have to change all terms in a specific language, using a style is a value in a 300-page essays.

What I expect is that if I apply a paragraph style to a phrase which uses language A, and a character style to a word written in language B, the character style has priority on paragraph style. It works BUT if I close and open again the document, or I simply edit the paragraph in any position but the foreign word, the foreign term is reverted to language A. I am really upset by that. It looks like Microsoft developers have little understanding of writing multi-language documents.

I have disabled automatic detection of language, of course. It is a really useless and dangerous function.

2020-11-07 04:28:09

Ken Endacott


There are five ways to set the language of a word:
1. When entering a word it takes the language of the previous word or if a blank line then from the language of the paragraph style
2. By selecting the word and the desired language in Language > Set Proofing Language menu.
3. By selecting the word and applying a character style that has the desired language setting
4. By using a macro
5. By copying the word from another document

CTRL + SPACE should remove character formatting and revert to the paragraph style. If you have applied a character style then it reverts back to the paragraph style and the language of that style. If you have applied the language via Set Proofing Language or by macro then nothing happens.

Re-apply the paragraph style. The result depends on what you have selected. If the whole paragraph including the paragraph mark is selected then nothing happens. If you have selected text but not the paragraph mark then the language of the selected words reverts back to the paragraph’s language.

If a word has had the language applied with Set Proofing Language then applying a character style to it will not change the language. Instead you need to revert it to the paragraph style and then apply the character style.

All very confusing! My suggestion is to forget about using the character style and directly set the language of the word using Set Proofing Language. Instead, put the language icon onto the Quick Action Toolbar. It displays the language of the selection and has a drop down menu of languages.

2020-11-06 08:34:05

Dario de Judicibus

I am an Italian writer. So I write in Italian language. If I have to include an English term in a text, I wish to highlight it by italics and to use, just for that, the English US proofer. Please, note that I use the Italian keyboard layout when I write in Italian and English, because English alphabet is a subset of Italian one. It would make no sense to switch keyboard layout just to write some European foreign language in my text.

Therefore, my Body Text style has no proofer explicitly set, so that Word uses the Italian one, since I am writing by an Italian keyboard. It works fine.

I have also created a character style called «English Term» which is based on default paragraph font (I want to be able to apply it to any text), featuring italic font style and English US language. Of course both Italian and English US proofers have been installed and set in Word options. It works fine too, but...

If I change anything in a paragraph that contains a foreign term, the Italian proofer is applied to that term too. Italic style is honored, so it "looks" like a foreign term, but it is no more. It seems that any change to a paragraph, forces to reapply the default proofer to all words in text, even if some of them is based on a style that explicitly specify another proofer. Is that intended? If so, it is a misunderstanding on how proofers should be applied to text, in my opinion. In Europe is quite frequent to use in the same text words of different languages.

In case it is not a bug but an "as-designed" characteristic, how can I obtain what I want?

2019-05-03 02:55:20

Maarten Marien

It is clear to me both (A) how to specify the language for a given text, and (B) how to modify the language used in a particular style.

Both (A) and (B) are insufficient for practical use: (A), because you don't specify yet the language for additional text you may add later; (B), because one typically uses most if not all of the styles, and making the same modificiation over and over to all styles is very tedious.

So my questions is: is there a convenient way to specify the language for *all* styles? (Preferably in Word 2018.)

2015-02-22 20:46:10

Paulo Almeida

The suggested instructions are right, but, in fact, latter, it doesn't work well!
Before MS Word 2007, it works, we can define a language and if the speeling is activated or not for one specific style, and MS Word always respect that.
But with MS Word 2007 and recent ones, it seems that some kind of automatic "inteligent" (stupid) piece of MS Word programmed code tries to guess the language and in many situations it indicates spelling errors in words and expression written in some specific character styles, not taking in consideration the language and spelling permissions instructions defined for that style!
Also, some automatic parts of the documment, like indexes borders, figures insertions points... seems to always be in the OS language or the language it thinks be the desired one, probably based on the country location of my computer, defined in the OS (I use PT, usually, with some specific modifications on date format), instead of the language defined for the sorround defined style.

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