Word Spell Check Not Working

Have you ever had one of those days where you’re trying to get out an important document, but you find that the spell check in Word isn’t working? Sometimes you can’t check one document, and other times you can’t spell-check any documents. Either way, you might try some of these suggested solutions.

I’ve encountered both versions of this annoyance. In some instances, the problem was my own doing and I had the wrong language settings. Other times I don’t know what caused it but knew I had spelling mistakes. Usually, I can solve the issue with the steps below unless it’s a protected document. One reason you want to correct this issue is that it may interfere with your Word readability statistics.

Spell Check Not Working – 1 Document

There are times you’ll find Word’s spell check just won’t work for one document. You can open other Microsoft Word documents and spell check works. In these instances, the problem probably resides 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. In the Language dialog make sure the correct default language is selected.
  5. Verify the checkbox Do not check spelling or grammar is unchecked.
Do not spell check option in Language dialog box.Pin
Checkbox to enable spellcheck
  1. Click OK.
  2. Recheck your document

I wish I could say the above method is foolproof. You would think highlighting the entire document would overwrite all paragraph settings throughout. On occasion after following the above steps, I would get the following message as shown below in older versions of Word. However, in Office 365, I no longer get this alert even if I have errors.

Word spell check message about skipped marked text.Pin
Word alert about skipped text

This alert message suggests that your document still has a section marked with “Do not check spelling or grammar.” Unfortunately, I don’t know of any easy way to find these marks. So instead, I tend to 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 what you expect and if the paragraph has spell check turned off. In the example below, you can see the highlighted paragraph is coded not to check for spelling.

Tip: If you don’t see the pane, you may have some sort of Function lock on your keyboard. For example, my Microsoft keyboard has a F Lock key on the top row because there are other functions mapped.

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 option.

Paragraph marked to skip spellcheck.Pin
Reveal Formatting with Do not check spelling or grammar

In the above example, you can see I misspelled the word “government”. Word did not flag this instance because the paragraph was marked not to check.

Check Your Proofing Exception Options

You should check one other setting as there is a Word option where you can elect to hide spelling errors. This setting is done on an individual file basis.

  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 to see if the Hide spelling errors in this document only check box is enabled.
Proofing options dialog with hide errors checked.Pin
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.

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

This feature is an option to see your mistakes as they happen. In some cases, I’ve seen toggling this check box “on” and “off” fix the problem. Also, 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.

info icon Note: For older versions of Word, use the Check Document feature on your Review tab.

Step 2: Verify Another Word Add-in Isn’t Interfering

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.Pin
Alert for Safe Mode
  1. Open up your document.
  2. Press F7 to run spell-check.

If the spellchecker now 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.Pin

Another area can be accessed from the Word Options dialog 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.Pin
Highlighted Add-in

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

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

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

Step 3: Rename Your Word Template

It could be that your problem is tied to your global template which is either normal.dot or normal.dotm (Word 2007 and newer versions.) These files are usually found 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 rename the file to something like normalPRV.dot or normalPRV.dotm so you can change the name back if this suggestion doesn’t work.

Tip: If you’re not certain of the location of your template you can press your Windows key + R. This will open the Run dialog where you can enter copy and paste the command below.

%appdata%\Microsoft\Templates

Run dialog with command to find files.Pin

Step 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, perhaps a registry entry has become corrupted. In these rare cases, you may have to repair your installation.

Step 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 not familiar 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.Pin
Renaming Windows Registry folder
  1. Rename folder to 1PRV.0
  2. Close regedit.
  3. Restart Microsoft Word.

Hopefully, the solutions above resolved the built-in spell checker issues. Now, you can continue to write your great novel, letter, or tutorial.