Keeping Words in the Custom Dictionary

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated September 4, 2021)
This tip applies to Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Word in Microsoft 365

Fairly frequently Fred has a document, usually consisting of copied and pasted paragraphs, that shows certain technical words as unknown (underlined and prompting to check spelling or add to custom dictionary). However, the marked words are ones that Fred previously added to his custom dictionary, which makes him wonder why Word doesn't hold onto those words he previously added. He further notes that the words are not immediately lost from the dictionary; it usually happens after some months.

The fact that this behavior doesn't happen all the time makes it particularly bothersome to try to track down. (Intermittent problems are some of the most vexing.) That being said, there are a few things you can check out.

First, you should try to determine if this happens with only a given document or subset of documents that you work with. If you can narrow it down to a set of suspect documents, then there is a chance that those documents are corrupted in some way. Document corruption doesn't always make the document in question inaccessible; it may just make the document act erratically from time to time. If you suspect this is the case, copy everything from the suspect document—except the final paragraph mark in the document—to a brand-new document.

Second, it could be that the information you are copying and pasting isn't recognized as being in the correct language for your custom dictionary to work. Custom dictionaries are tied to specific languages. To provide a simple example, you could have added a word to the US English custom dictionary. However, if the paragraph you pasted is designated in a different language (such as UK English), then the US English custom dictionary is never consulted when doing the spell check. You can verify if this is the problem by looking at the language associated with a problem paragraph or word. If it is your problem, then you can fix it by simply changing how you paste information. (That is covered in the tip entitled Pasting Text in a Specific Language.)

Third, the problem could be due to actual corruption of the custom dictionaries. This is a longshot, as we've never seen much corruption of these files. If you can display and edit the dictionaries, then there likely is no problem. Even so, you may want to make backing up of these files a part of the regular protection regimen for your system.

Fourth, it is possible that Word has gotten confused and forgotten where the custom dictionaries are located. (Exactly what causes this is unknown, but it has been reported by some Word users.) To check if Word is actually finding your custom dictionary, follow these steps:

  1. Display the Word Options dialog box. (In Word 2007 click the Office button and then click Word Options. In Word 2010 or later versions, display the File tab of the ribbon and then click Options.)
  2. Click Proofing at the left side of the dialog box.
  3. Click the Custom Dictionaries button. Word displays the Custom Dictionaries dialog box. (See Figure 1.)
  4. Figure 1. The Custom Dictionaries dialog box.

  5. If your dictionary shows up in the dialog box, click it once. (If it doesn't show up, click the Add button and use the resulting controls to track it down.)
  6. Make sure the path to the dictionary (shown in the File Path) box is correct. If it is not, click the Browse button and use the resulting controls to choose the right path.
  7. Click OK to close the Custom Dictionaries dialog box.
  8. Click the OK button to close the Word Options dialog box.

Hopefully these suggestions will help to alleviate the frustration of getting inconsistent results with the spelling checker.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (12944) 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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