Adding Hyphenated Words to the Dictionary

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated October 12, 2020)


Carol's company name uses a hyphen and she replaces it with a non-breaking hyphen. For instance, the name J-Team uses a non-breaking hyphen so that Carol doesn't get a J- on one line and the rest on the next. However, Word shows the hyphen and Team as misspelled. Carol wonders if there is a way to get Word to accept J-Team in the spell-check dictionary and stop flagging it. As it now stands, Word requires Carol to "ignore once" each time, as it won't even ignore all.

In doing testing, I was unable to recreate this problem. I tried using "J-Team" and "Smith-Johnson," both with regular hyphens and non-breaking hyphens. In all instances, on all versions of Word (2007 through 2016), the hyphenated words were not marked as incorrect spellings.

That being said, it could be that the problem isn't with the spell checker but with the grammar checker. (You can tell if Word uses a green squiggly underline under the term instead of a red squiggly underline.) If this is the case, you can 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 and later versions display the File tab of the ribbon and then click Options.)
  2. Click the Proofing option at the left side of the dialog box.
  3. Click the Settings button. Word displays the Grammar Settings dialog box. (See Figure 1.)
  4. Figure 1. The Grammar Settings dialog box.

  5. Using the Writing Style drop-down list, choose Grammar & Style.
  6. Scroll down so you can see the Style checking controls.
  7. Make sure there is no check mark next to the Hyphenated and Compound Words option. (If you selected Grammar Only in step 4, then the check box will be empty for this option by default.)
  8. Click on OK to close the Grammar Settings dialog box.
  9. Click on OK to close the Word Options dialog box.

If the problem is that Word actually flags the term as a spelling error (there is a red squiggly line under part or all of the term), then that is a bit more problematic. The first thing to do is to check to see that you are actually using a non-breaking hyphen between the words. If, instead, you are using an optional hyphen, then the entire term will be marked as spelled wrong. You should be using a non-breaking hyphen, entered by pressing Ctrl+Shift+Hyphen.

You'll also want to check to make sure that the words (or, indeed, any part of the hyphenated term) are not formatted for a foreign language. Select the entire hyphenated term, and then display the Review tab of the ribbon. If you're using Word 2007, click the Set Language tool in the Proofing group. In Word 2010 and later versions, click Language in the Language group and select Set Proofing Language from the resulting drop-down menu. Word displays the Language dialog box. (See Figure 2.)

Figure 2. The Language dialog box.

If the top of the dialog box does not have a single language selected, it means that the hyphenated term is formatted to use multiple languages. Make sure that you select which language you want applied to the entire term, and then click OK.

When it comes to spelling errors in this case, what you can't do is to try to enter the term into the dictionary; it won't work. Why? Because the dictionary deals with single words, not with compound words. While you can enter the entire compound term into the custom dictionary, Word will still continue marking the spelling as incorrect if it did so before.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (13473) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, 2013, and 2016.

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 five minus 1?

2017-05-15 01:58:01


I have this problem constantly in Word 2007. Any word with a non-breaking hyphen will show the latter part of the word as incorrectly spelled, such as no-one, T-shirt, night-time, etc. it's not a grammar problem. This seems to just be a bug in Word. I'm not sure if later versions have fixed the problem but would love to be able to tell Word to ignore these hyphenated words.

My solution so far is to replace all non-breaking hyphens with regular hyphens then change them back after doing my spelllcheck. Luckily my employer's styleguide doesn't ever need hyphen breaks across a line so I can safely replace them all. If you can't do that, I recommend replacing all the problem symbols with " qxqz " or something similar just for the duration of the spellcheck.

2016-09-24 07:44:54

Darryl Evans

Thank you for the tips. It really helps.

2016-09-24 05:04:09

Abdul Quadir

Regarding adding hyphenated words to the custom dictionary manually (using the Word Options dialog box):

If you type a word such as abcd-efgh, Word will most likely mark it as a misspelled word. If you, however, add this to the dictionary (via the Word Options dialog box), Word will no longer flag it as a wrongly spelled word. I've tried it in Word 2010 and it works!

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