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Why Microsoft Word's spellcheck isn't perfect

Why Word’s spellcheck isn’t perfect


“Spell check will not fined words witch are miss used butt spelled rite!”


Although almost every single word in the sentence above is used incorrectly, Microsoft Word’s spellcheck only picks up only on two of them. The correct sentence would read “Spell check will not find which are misused but spelled right!”

Here at Red Pen, we love Microsoft Word and (most of) its features! We use the software on a daily basis to edit and proofread your work, and its grammar and spell check is a handy step in looking for glaring mistakes. However, Word’s spellcheck isn’t perfect, and part of becoming a good writer is understanding the limits of the software and using it to our advantage. We’ve compiled a list of the ways in which Word’s spellcheck can sometimes miss the mark!

  1. Not much use with proper nouns -  Unless the proper noun that you’re using is common, it’s likely that MS will flag it as a spelling mistake. This feature is most irritating for uncommon spellings of common names as it is so easy to miss Word’s auto-correction feature!
  2. Spell check does not offer adequate solutions to words that are spelled severely wrong – We’ve all been there: you’ve heard a word used so eloquently by your professor, your thesis supervisor, or your peers, but you’ve never actually seen it written down in context. You could try typing it in Word and hoping for its dictionary to save you, but Word often can’t offer suggestions when the improvised spelling is too far from the original! For example, when attempting to spell the word “arbitrary” as “arbitory”, Word offers a number of choices, none of which are quite the word you were looking for!  
  3. Repeated phrases and sentences – Word’s spellcheck can tell you when you’ve repeated the word “the” three times, but it can’t alert you of mishaps when copying and pasting entire sentences and paragraphs in the same way that a human editor can.
  4. Awkward English – Native English speakers are great at picking out odd phrases and words because “they just don’t sound right”, which is not possible for a computer software. For example, the phrase “at a turtle’s pace”, meaning “very slowly” is grammatically correct and makes sense, but any native English speaker can tell you that the correct idiom is “at a snail’s pace”.
  5. Context is key – When we read papers, as editors, we get a feel for what kind of vocabulary should be used and how. However, Microsoft Word does not learn the same way and can often be unhelpful when deciphering meaning based on context. For example, a common mistake is “selfish” vs “sell fish”, and using the latter when discussing human behaviour could be embarrassing!

So, what do you do when Word’s spellcheck lets you down? That’s where Red Pen Bristol comes in. All of our editors are native English speakers with years of experience in proofreading and editing. We’ll catch all the mistakes that Word misses and help you get your writing to a higher level.