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Set Systemwide Automatic Spelling Correction
Any Mac application that uses the Cocoa framework (which is most applications nowadays), can take advantage of the same built-in dictionary to check and correct spelling as you type. To enable the feature for all applications follow these steps:
- Open the System Preferences either from the Dock or the Apple Menu
- Choose the Language and Text icon
- Select the Text pane to display the list of available options
- To enable spelling autocorrection systemwide, tick the checkbox labelled Correct spelling automatically (as shown below)
- To disable spelling autocorrection simply un-tick the same checkbox
Note that even when automatic spelling correction is enabled across the whole system, it can still be controlled individually for each application if it has the relevant menu options. Common examples include Mail, Pages and Safari.
How to Change Spell Check Settings in Mac
When you’re having problems with spell check on Mac, the first thing you need to check is whether it is enabled or not. You also need to make sure that the configurations are correct for the feature to function properly.
Take note that the Mac system’s spell checker is different from the grammar and proofreading features included with apps such as Word, which has its own settings.
To turn on automatic spell check in Mail:
- Click the Mail icon in the Dock to open it.
- Click Mail from the top menu, then choose Preferences .
- Click on the Composing tab.
- In the dropdown beside Check spelling, choose as I type.
To turn on automatic spell check when composing an email:
- Click Edit from the top menu, then click Spelling and Grammar .
- Tick off Check Spelling As You Type . For older Mail versions, you might need to click Check Spelling > While Typing.
- Make sure that Correct Spelling Automatically is also ticked off.
Just like other programs, spell checking works by comparing the words you are typing against those that are in the app’s list of accepted words. If the word is included in the list, it won’t be automatically corrected or marked as incorrect.
Check spelling and grammar
In an app on your Mac, do any of the following:
Check spelling: Choose Edit > Spelling and Grammar > Check Document Now. The first error is highlighted. To show the next error, press Command-Semicolon (;). To see suggested spellings for a word, Control-click it.
Check grammar: Choose Edit > Spelling and Grammar > Check Grammar With Spelling (a tick shows it’s on). Grammar errors are underlined in green. Move the pointer over an underlined word to see a description of the problem.
Note: Grammar checking is available only for English and Spanish.
Ignore misspellings: Control-click a word, then choose Ignore Spelling. The word is ignored if it occurs again in the document (it is highlighted in other documents).
Add words to the spelling dictionary: Control-click a word, then choose Learn Spelling. The word won’t be flagged as misspelled in any document.
Remove a word from the spelling dictionary: Control-click a word, then choose Unlearn Spelling.
If you’re checking a long document, it may be easier to use the Spelling and Grammar window. Choose Edit > Spelling and Grammar > Show Spelling and Grammar.
If your issue continues, restart your in Safe Mode. Safe Mode may fix your spell check problems. Turn on Safe Mode, test to see if spell checking is working. Then exit Safe Mode and test again. Here is how you can do this:
- Turn off your Mac.
- Turn on your Mac and immediately press and hold the Shift key.
- Keep holding the key until you see the login screen and then release the key.
- Log in to your Mac.
Apple silicon Macs:
- Turn off your Mac.
- Press and hold the power button until the startup options screen appears.
- Select your startup disk.
- Press and hold the Shift key and click “Continue in Safe Mode”.
- Log in to your Mac.
Note: Go to Apple menu > About This Mac > Overview to determine if you have an Intel or Apple silicon Mac.
Set the Default Language
Go to Tools>Language, select your language, and click Default. This will affect all documents created from then on. You’ll need to fix old documents one-by one. (If you don’t have a Tools>Language entry, see here.)
You are highly advised to read How Spell-Checking Works in Word, as the notion of a "default language" doesn’t exactly apply to Word.
Auto-correct on iOS
Like macOS, iOS defaults to correcting your spellings. The various options can be fine-tuned in Settings > General > Keyboard. The Predictive switch, note, heavily affects the nature of the autocorrect interface.
When Predictive is on and you start typing, iOS will attempt to predict your next word, placing options in a bar above the keyboard. When it believes a word needs correcting, it will be automatically highlighted, and the central word in the prediction bar will be chosen if you continue typing. If you want to retain your spelling, you’ll need to tap the quoted option to the left.
By contrast, if Predictive is turned off, the interface you get is essentially the same as on the Mac. The predictive bar is not displayed, and autocorrect suggestions appear next to the word, with a little tappable close box for when you want to cancel them.
Like on Mac, you can also ‘train’ autocorrect, by overruling it a bunch of times. But reverting words isn’t so easy – instead, you have to go for the brute force approach of deleting your entire custom dictionary in Settings > General > Reset > Reset Keyboard Dictionary. Naturally, this obliterates any customisations made up until that point.
Glitches in iOS autocorrect
As we’ve seen, from time to time iOS’s autocorrect tries to understand what you’re trying to type, fails, and changes it to something wrong. This is just one of those things, and you can train it to understand particular phrases in the short term, and hope the feature improves overall in the long. But there have been other situations where the error is harder to understand.
Following the rollout of iOS 11, for example, there have been numerous reports of hopelessly wrong autocorrect errors that one would have to describe as glitches, or bugs.
Early on, the lower-case i was often seen to autocorrect to a question mark in a box – but this has since been patched in iOS 11.1.1. But another glitch followed it, this time autocorrecting “it” to “I.T” and “is” to “I.S”, and at time of writing this has not been patched.
(It’s also not affecting everyone. We’ve seen the lower-case i glitch but not the I.T/I.S one.)
With autocorrect glitches, as opposed to straightforward mistakes, the most effective solution will be to let Apple know, and wait for an iOS patch. In the meantime you can try to set up a text replacement shortcut (replacing “it” with “it”, for example) but some affected users say even this doesn’t work.
The Mysterious No Proofing Message
Sometimes when you run Tools>Spelling & Grammar, Word will give you the following dialog message after the spellcheck is complete.
The spelling check is Complete. Text set to (no proofing) was skipped. To find (no proofing) text, click Edit/Replace, click More, click Format, click language and choose No proofing.
Word spellchecks according to the language formatting that has been applied to the text. You can see what language the text is formatted in by going to Tools>Language and seeing what comes up highlighted. If you receive the above message, it means that some of the text is formatted without a language, or as No Proofing. Word is giving you instructions on how to find that text, so that you can reformat it. Note: If you don’t have a Tools>Language entry, see here.
Now, in recent versions, this message is actually incorrect. Versions of Word prior to Word 2004 had (no proofing) listed as equivalent to a language, so that it was possible to have text with no language formatting at all. In Word 2004, the equivalent of (no proofing) is checking the "do not check spelling and grammar" box in Tools>Language, which is a format layered on top of language formatting. So in Word 2004, when it says search for (no proofing) text, really you need to search for text with that "do not check spelling and grammar" box checked. In earlier versions, you would search for a Tools>Language setting of (no proofing).
However, you can ignore this message entirely. Just jump to the Fixes section for the regular remedies.
How to turn off autocorrect
Before we go any further, let’s briefly deal with those of us who simply don’t want anything to do with autocorrect. Here’s how to turn it off and forget about it.
On iPhone or iPad, open the Settings app and then go to General > Keyboards. Set the Auto-Correction setting to Off.
On Mac, you need to open System Preferences (either click the System Preferences icon in the dock, or click the Apple dropdown menu at the top left of the screen, then select System Preferences). Choose Keyboards, and click the Text tab. Remove the tick next to Correct Spelling Automatically.
We deal with this in more depth elsewhere: How to turn off Autocorrect.
This website is founded by Serhat Kurt. He worked as a Senior Technology Director. He holds a doctoral degree (or doctorate) from the University of Illinois at Urbana / Champaign and a master’s degree from Purdue University.
Stacey Butler is a tech writer at macReports covering news, how-tos, and user guides. She is a longtime Mac and iPhone user and holds a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.