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HOWTO: Change Mac OS X’s Default Spelling Dictionary Language

spelling_dictionary_language_osxExcuse My Spelling, My Dictionary is set to American English!

Well, over on the U.S. side of the Atlantic it isn’t such a big problem but over here in Europe all to often the Mac OS X spelling dictionary language is set to U.S. English by default.


The British & Irish guys just don’t like spelling colour without the ‘u’ and ‘socialise’ with a ‘z’.


On top of that, any one of us in Europe or the U.S. speak multiple different languages and would like to chose the spelling dictionary language on the fly.


This article goes about explaining the two most common ways of changing the system-wide Mac OS X spelling dictionary language.


The first method looks at when you’re using the spellcheck inside an application such as TextEdit or Pages.  The second method is a more permanent system wide change and takes place in the System Preferences.


I’m doing this on a MacBook running Mac OS X 10.6.4 Snow Leopard.


Read on for the details.



Changing the Spellcheck Dictionary Language From Inside The Application


To make this change from within a specific application such as Pages or TextEdit do the following:


  1. In your application, click Edit > Spelling & Grammar > Show Spelling & Grammar or press CMD+: on the keyboard.
  2. Note: This is often called something else in other applications, e.g., in Pages it’s called simply ‘Spelling…

    textedit spelling menu

  3. When the Spelling & Grammar window appears, select your language from the drop down menu at the bottom and then click the red X to close the window again.

    This change will only last as long as you keep TextEdit open.  After you re-open the application, the spelling dictionary language will reset back to the system default.  Let’s talk about changing the system default spelling dictionary language now.
  4. Mac OS X Spelling and Grammar Language


Changing the Mac OS X System Default Spellcheck Dictionary Language


Changing the system default spelling dictionary language is just as easy.  Follow these few easy steps:


  1. Open System Preferences; one way is to click the System Preferences icon on your Dock.  If you can’t see this go ahead and open Applications > Utilities > System Preferences
  2. In the Personal Preferences row (top row), click Language & Text.
    system preferences language & text icon
  3. Now click the Text tab at the top
  4. On the right side, you should now see a field called Spelling.  Select your preferred language from here.
    system preferences language & text pane


Wow, 4 Comments! We've got a conversation going now. Join the discussion below!

  1. Robert Wilson says:

    thanks for the post

    1. Brian Mc Enery says:

      Unfortunately there is no Hiberno English dictionary either. We do not always appreciate having to use a ‘British’ dictionary!

      On a more pointed note, I have noticed that Pages and TextEdit create different files in the ~/Library/Spelling folder, Pages creates enGB, and TextEdit creates LocalDictionary. Is there anyway to get them both to put the learned spellings in a common place?


      1. Brian Mc Enery says:

        Found the resolution in this thread, https://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=354734. As usual Mac consider American English as English, so when I installed the system I chose English rather than British English. A good thing now however is that I now have the option for Gaeilge.


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