Why is Spell Check Not Working in Word? Find Easy Fixes

Have you ever had one of those days you’re finishing an important document, but the spell check in Microsoft Word isn’t working correctly? Sometimes you can’t check one document, and other times you can’t spell-check any document. And sometimes, it’s several words. In this troubleshooting tutorial, I’ll show several solutions.

I’ve encountered this annoyance many times. Usually, I can solve the issue with the steps below unless it’s a protected Microsoft Word document. However, you want to correct this issue because it may interfere with calculating your Word readability statistics.

Why is Spell Check Not Working – (1 Document)

Sometimes Word’s spell check won’t work for one document. However, you can open other documents, and spell check works. The problem is probably with the preferred languages or formatting settings.

Verify Your Language & Check Spelling Options

  1. Open the problem document.
  2. Press the Ctrl + A keys to select the entire text.
  3. From the Review tab, select Language, then Set Proofing Language…
  4. Make sure the correct default language is selected in the Language dialog box.
  5. Verify the checkbox Do not check spelling or grammar is unchecked.
Do not spell check option in Language dialog box.
Checkbox to disable spellcheck
  1. Click OK.
  2. Recheck your document

I wish the above method were foolproof. Highlighting the entire document would overwrite all paragraph settings throughout. I would get the message below on older versions of Microsoft Word. However, in Microsoft 365, I no longer get this alert even if I have spelling errors.

Word spell check message about skipped marked text.
Word alert about skipped spell and grammar check

This alert message suggests that your document has a section marked “Do not check spelling or grammar.” Unfortunately, I don’t know any easy way to find these marks. So instead, I find a paragraph with a spelling mistake, highlight it, and press Shift + F1.

This opens the Reveal Formatting pane, where you can verify that your correct language is correct and if the paragraph has spell check turned off. In the example below, the highlighted section is coded not to spell check.

If you don’t see the pane, you may have some Function lock on your keyboard. Generally, these keyboards have an F Lock key on the top row because there are other functions mapped. Other keyboards may use an Fn key.

Section showing Do not check spelling.
Reveal Formatting Panel with Do not check spelling or grammar

In the above example, I misspelled the word “government.” Word did not flag this instance because the paragraph was marked not to do spelling or grammar checks.

To fix the issue, highlight your paragraph and click the Language link in the Reveal Formatting dialog. This will open the Language dialog box, and you can deselect the check spelling or grammar option checkbox.

Language dialog box with Do not check spelling enabled.
Spell Check options on Language and Formatting Panel

Are Multiple Proofing Languages Set?

Looking at the screen print above, you’ll notice I have three proofing languages above the double line. They are variations of English for Australia, Canada, United States. Word can get confused if you don’t enable “Detect language automatically.”

According to this support page, Microsoft noted several suggestions:

  • Automatic language detection requires that a sentence of text be written in that language. Depending on the length of your sentences, you might need to type several sentences before Word has enough contextual information to automatically detect the language and apply the correct dictionary.
  • Words that are spelled the same way in several languages, such as “centre” in English (United Kingdom) and French (France), might cause the Detect language automatically check box to identify the language of the text incorrectly. To solve this problem, type more words in the language you want, or clear the Detect language automatically check box.

Review Proofing Exception Options

You should check another setting, as there is a Word option where you can elect to hide spelling errors. You can set this option on an individual file.

  1. Click the File tab.
  2. From the left panel, select Options.
  3. In the Word Options dialog, click Proofing.
  4. Scroll to the bottom area called Exceptions for:
  5. Check if the Hide spelling errors in this document only check box is enabled.
Proofing options dialog with hide errors checked.
Hide spelling errors enabled for document

Spell Check Not Working – (All Documents)

This second problem can be a real annoyance with many variations. The suggestions range from easy to a Microsoft Windows registry change.

Option 1: Verify the “check spelling as you type” Feature

This feature is an option to see your mistakes as they happen. Toggling this check box “on” and “off” sometimes fixes the problem. Additionally, those red squiggly underlines might be from the Word Exclusion Dictionary.

To verify Spelling and Grammar Checkers are on,

  1. Click the File tab.
  2. From the left menu, select Options at the bottom.
  3. In the Word Options dialog, click Proofing.
  4. Check the boxes for Check spelling as you type and Mark grammar errors as you type. (See picture above.)
  5. Click OK.

Use the Check Document feature on your Review tab for older versions of Word.

Option 2: Check for Conflicting Word Add-in

Still, your problem may be caused by a combination of factors such as another Word add-in. The way to verify this is to see if the spellchecker works in “safe mode.” Safe Mode is a reduced functionality state where Microsoft Word loads without add-ins.

  1. Hold down your Ctrl key and then press the icon or menu option for Microsoft Word.
  2. Click Yes when the Safe Mode dialog appears.
Alert asking if you want Word in Safe mode.
Alert for Safe Mode
  1. Open up your document.
  2. Press F7 to run spell-check.

If the spellchecker works, you need to figure out which add-in is causing the problem. There are two areas where you may see these.

The first is from the Insert tab.

Add-ins group on Word ribbon.
Add-ins section

If you click My Add-ins, you will see your installed items. If you hover over an item, a 3-dot menu will appear where you can remove the item.

My installed Office add-ins.

Additionally, you can access this area from the Word Options dialog box under Add-ins. Hopefully, you recognize an add-in name such as Grammarly. Then you can press the Go button.

Word Options dialog with Grammarly highlighted.
Highlighted Add-in

You’ll then get a COM Add-ins dialog where you can uncheck the box so it won’t load or remove it. 

COM Add-ins dialog with Grammarly checked.
COM Add-ins showing Grammarly

I’d suggest closing Word and reopening your document before checking again.

Option 3: Rename Your Word Template

Your Microsoft Word document template, which is either normal.dot or normal.dotm, might also be causing an issue. You can find these files in your Microsoft Templates folder. When you rename the template, Word will reset to the default settings.

Because your global template file has your settings, I would recommend renaming the file to something like normalPRV.dot or normalPRV.dotm so you can change the name if this suggestion doesn’t work.

If you need to confirm the location of your template, you can press your Windows key Windows key icon. + r. This will open the Run dialog, where you can copy and paste the command below.

%appdata%\Microsoft\Templates

Run dialog with command to find files.

Option 4: Try Detect and Repair

Now and then, I have the spell-check feature go wonky after some other software update or hardware change. For example, a registry entry has become corrupted. In these rare cases, you may have to repair your installation.

Option 5: Rename a Windows Registry Folder

I don’t like giving instructions on using the Windows registry. But sometimes, this online repair works. If you’re unfamiliar with this area, I strongly recommend reading Microsoft’s https://docs.microsoft.com/en-US/troubleshoot/windows-server/performance/windows-registry-advanced-users.

As with an earlier suggestion, I rename the folder rather than deleting it. Some people rely on third-party dictionaries that may use some of these entries. If you find after renaming the folder, your 3rd party dictionary doesn’t work; you can revert the changes.

To rename the Proofing Tools folder,

  1. Close Word.
  2. Press the Windows key + R.
  3. In the Run dialog box, type regedit.
  4. Click the OK button.
  5. Expand the left pane to HKEY_CURRENT_USER | Software | Microsoft | Shared Tools| Proofing Tools
  6. Right-click the folder named 1.0
  7. Select Rename from the menu.
Windows registry editor and Proofing folder.
Renaming the Windows Registry folder
  1. Rename the folder to 1PRV.0
  2. Close regedit.
  3. Restart Microsoft Word.

Specific Word Isn’t Flagged as Misspelled

Sometimes, you’ve run through the steps above, and Word still doesn’t flag an item that is misspelled. This can be frustrating, but sometimes the problem is us. Yes, I have misspelled words when adding them to Word’s custom spell-check dictionary. That’s why I also created an exclude dictionary for Word.

Check Your Custom Dictionary

  1. Click the File tab.
  2. From the left menu, select Options at the bottom.
  3. In the Word Options dialog, click Proofing.
  4. Scroll down to When correcting spelling in Microsoft Office program section.
  5. Click the Custom Dictionaries… button.
  6. Click the Edit Word List… button.
Editing words in Custom Dictionary.
Look for misspellings in the custom dictionary
  1. Find your misspelled word and delete it.
  2. Add correct variation if needed.
  3. Click OK.

Try Another Online Option & Then Fix

This isn’t a fix, but it buys time if you’ve got a deliverable and Microsoft word spell check not working correctly. In the interim, you can save your document and try to open or copy it to another online word processor such as Google Docs or Microsoft Word Online. You will need to have an online account. Once you’ve imported your document, use that system’s spell-checker.

Hopefully, these solutions helped you isolate why spell-check wasn’t working. Now, you can continue to write your great novel, business proposal, letter, or tutorial.

Key Points & Takeaways

Sometimes, Microsoft Word’s spell check might not work correctly for one document, all documents, or for specific words.

  • If spell check is not working for all documents, you can try several solutions:
    • Verify the “check spelling as you type” feature is enabled.
    • Check for conflicting Word add-ins by running Word in “safe mode.”
    • Rename your Word template (normal.dot or normal.dotm) to reset to default settings.
    • Try the “Detect and Repair” feature.
    • Rename a specific Windows Registry folder (this should be done with caution).
  • For one document, the issue might be with the preferred languages or formatting settings. To fix this, select the entire text, check the language settings, and ensure the “Do not check spelling or grammar” option is unchecked.
  • If Word is not checking spelling for a specific section of the document, you can use the “Reveal Formatting” pane to check if the section has spell check turned off. If so, you can turn it back on.
  • If multiple proofing languages are set, Word might get confused. To solve this, type more words in the language you want, or clear the “Detect language automatically” check box.

If none of these solutions work, you can temporarily use an online word processor like Google Docs or Microsoft Word Online for spell checking.