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Solving the: ‘Word 2007 Spell Checker Doesn’t Work’ Problem

Word 2007 - Spell checker not working

Among other things, I draft legal documents for a living. Sometimes Word does not highlight misspelled words with the little wavy red line as you would expect. And worse, it doesn’t report them as typos when running the spell checker.

The problem, depicted in this graphic has been the subject of numerous online discussions. See for example here, here and here. The usual forum response to this problem is "I hate Word 2007" followed by little, if any, constructive discussion of what’s going on or how to solve it.

In order to understand the solution, it is important to first understand the problem. The problem lies with the infamous hidden spelling markers that Word inserts in documents to make spell checking more efficient.

The hidden Spell Checking Codes

Remember ‘reveal codes" in WordPerfect? Word contains similar hidden codes and markers unseen to the user. If at any time in the document’s past, a section of text had previously been run through Word’s spell checker, hidden codes are placed around previously checked paragraphs so that on the next run through, Word knows enough not to bother re-spell-checking  unmodified text. Presumably this saves time.

This is not new to Word 2007. The same hidden spell checker codes were used in Word 2003 and prior versions of Word. And they caused the same problem in the earlier versions of the software too.

Over time, however, the accuracy of these hidden codes can, and frequently do, get futzed up for any number of reasons. The result being that sections with typos are often still marked as previously proofed and error free. So Word doesn’t check them.

One (Lawyer’s) Cause of the Problem

When lawyers draft contracts, we rarely start from whole cloth. We usually start with a prior contract that bears some resemblance to the contract we want to create. We (err, our secretaries) delete the sections that don’t apply, cut and paste in definitions, sentences and paragraphs from other contracts and precedents that do apply. New sections are added and it is all sewn nicely together.

Unfortunately, as we cut and paste from a multitude of source documents, the hidden spell check codes come along for the ride. After a few of these cuts and pastes, Word looses track of what has and what hasn’t been spell checked. When the spell checker next passes by, those hidden markers continue to tell the spell checker ‘nothing to see here, keep moving’.

That is just one example of the seemingly limitless number of ways that Word gets mixed up and its spell checker breaks.

The Solution in Word 2007

To remove all the hidden spell check codes in a Word 2007 document (and to get your spell checking working again), do the following:

  • Press Ctrl-A to select all the text in your document
  • Select the "Review" tab on Word 2007’s ribbon

Word 2007 - Clicking 'Set Language' Icon 

  • Click on the "Set Language" button (circled in red above)
  • Click the "Do not check spelling or grammar" box (see below) twice (first to remove the green highlighting and again to remove the check mark that shows up after the first click).

Word 2007 - Spell Check Solution Language Box 

  • If, as in the example above, two languages are set in one document, choose the language you prefer by clicking on one or the other (with a cross-border practice, this happens to me all the time)
  • Click ‘OK’

From then on, Word 2007 properly highlights misspelled words (with the squiggly red lines) grammar errors (with the squiggly green lines) and spell checking works just fine. Well, until it gets futzed-up again that is. :)

The Solution in  Word 2003

To remove all the hidden spell check codes in a Word 2003 document, do the following:

  • Press Ctrl-A to select all the text in your document
  • Click ‘Tools’
  • Click ‘Language’
  • Click ‘Set Language…’
  • Click the "Do not check spelling or grammar" box (see below) twice to remove the green highlighting.

Word 2003 - Spell Check Solution Language Box

  • Click ‘OK’

From then on, Word 2003 properly highlights misspelled words (with the squiggly red lines) grammar errors (with the squiggly green lines) and spell checking works just fine. Well, until it gets futzed-up again that is. :)

There you have it. Happy spell checking.

7 Comments


  1. // Reply

    Many thanks for this. I too have had this problem for ages and found your article by searching via Google. rnI had resorted to copying the text into Outlook as if it were to be an e-mail, spellchecking there and then copying it back to Word. This is far simpler. Although it’d be even simpler if Microsoft would fix the problem !!rn


  2. // Reply

    This problem has been plaguing my dissertation for months and your solution finally fixed it! I couldn’t figure out why copying and pasting into a new document wasn’t fixing the problem and why it only applied to certain sections of my document (the parts that I had copied and pasted from other docs). Thank you for taking the time to share this with all of us, despite the unfortunate comments from ungrateful people who have some (or many) other issues.


  3. // Reply

    Excellent! Still works 90% of the time for me. I’m hoping to move to Office 2010 in the next month or so. I’m hoping this will either not be a problem in Office 2010 OR that this solution will work in that version. I’ll update this post in the future once I’ve had a chance to play with 2010.


  4. // Reply

    THANK YOU, Thank you, Thank you. I know this was an old post, but I re-use forms constantly. Your direction solved my “non-spell check”. Much appreciated!! May 2010nn


  5. // Reply

    Sorry to hear that Nate. As you can see from others comments this solution generally works. But, since writing the post I’ve discovered a few documents where the solution just won’t work for me either. It usually does, but about 1 in 10 for me it doesn’t and I don’t know why.


  6. // Reply

    Thanks so Much!!!!! This worked. I must say that the first try I forgot to highlight the document first. It didn’t work, then I realized what I did and when I highlighted it and followed instructions, it worked!!! Thanks again!


  7. // Reply

    Well, I did precisely what you outlined to fix the spell-checker problem for Word 2007. Guess what? Didn’t work.


  8. // Reply

    Thank you for a well explained, well laid-out piece.rnI’m an IT engineer and this is excellent info – I work on a site with hundreds of people getting mail from all over the world. Once in a while a call like this comes through the helpdesk – even M$ doesn’t explain things this succinctly.rnYou must be a good lawyer : )


  9. // Reply

    Brilliant! Many thanks for taking the time to provide a clear and simple solution to this nagging problem. I still hate Word 2007 but am glad you took time away from drafting your legal documents to address this issue.nnCheers.


  10. // Reply

    The problem I often encounter is that the “do not check spelling or grammar” box is neither ticked nor unticked, but “both”, ie shaded green to indicate that the document contains a mixture of both formatting marks. When clicked twice to mark, then clear the mark, it appears to change the status. However when returning to the same box, it turns out nothing has changed, and the box is “greened out” again. (This applies when using ctrl-a to highlight all the text). Setting the language for the whole document likewise doesn’t seem to work.


  11. // Reply

    Excellent … don’t forget to leave a tip on your way out! Or, click on a google ad to send 3 cents my way ! πŸ˜‰


  12. // Reply

    Thank you!!!! I couldn’t find this anywhere.


  13. // Reply

    Cemal,rnrnIf you can’t get the “Language” box in order to uncheck the “Do Not check Spelling or grammar” then I don’t know what to suggest.rnrnDid you remember to press Ctrl-A to highlight your document before going into Tool-Language?rnrnYou could also save the document and load it onto another computer with Word and see if you can correct the problem on another computer and then return the document to your computer.


  14. // Reply

    If you can’t get to the “Language” box do uncheck the “Do Not check Spelling or grammar” then I don’t know what to suggest. Did you remember to press Ctrl-A to highlight your document before going into Tool-Language?rnrnYou could also save the document and load it onto another computer with Word and see if you can correct the problem on another computer and then return the document to your computer.


  15. // Reply

    hi,rnthanks for your clear advice, you are the first to mention hidden items.rnunfortunatley this is not fixing my issue.rni tried your idea to avail.rnmy spelling and grammer tab under Tools-Options is not even avaliable it is all grayed out.rnrnyou seem to be the the most clued up of all the answers that my google search has returned so im asking if you can help.rnrnyours respectfully rncemal kucuk


  16. // Reply

    Thank you for the fix.

    That was really frustrating the way Word decided to suddenly stop “spell checking”.


  17. // Reply

    it didnt fix mine at all.
    the box wasnt checked i checked it and unchecked it with no effect.
    please reply!


  18. // Reply

    Sorry Alex, if you highlighted the text that wasn’t being spell checked and there was no check in the ‘Do Not Check Spelling and Grammar’ check box, then you must have some other problem.


  19. // Reply

    I happened to be scanning your website and discovered your post on the required fix when Word is not spell checking a document. I had this problem just this morning … thanks for the solution – it worked!


  20. // Reply

    hi,
    thanks for your clear advice, you are the first to mention hidden items.
    unfortunatley this is not fixing my issue.
    i tried your idea to avail.
    my spelling and grammer tab under Tools-Options is not even avaliable it is all grayed out.

    you seem to be the the most clued up of all the answers that my google search has returned so im asking if you can help.

    yours respectfully
    cemal kucuk


  21. // Reply

    If you can’t get to the “Language” box to uncheck the “Do Not check Spelling or grammar” then I don’t know what to suggest. Did you remember to press Ctrl-A to highlight your document before going into Tool-Language?

    You could also save the document and load it onto another computer with Word and see if you can correct the problem on another computer and then return the document to your computer.


  22. // Reply

    Cemal,

    If you can't get the “Language” box in order to uncheck the “Do Not check Spelling or grammar” then I don't know what to suggest.

    Did you remember to press Ctrl-A to highlight your document before going into Tool-Language?

    You could also save the document and load it onto another computer with Word and see if you can correct the problem on another computer and then return the document to your computer.


  23. // Reply

    Thank you!!!! I couldn't find this anywhere.


  24. // Reply

    You are amazing… i been looking for this for months! thank you!


  25. // Reply

    Your welcome. I understand. It flummoxed me for quite some time too before I knuckled down and figured it out a few years ago.


  26. // Reply

    I FUCKING LOOOVE YOOOOU T_T


  27. // Reply

    I [explitive] LOOOVE YOOOOU T_T


  28. // Reply

    Excellent … don't forget to leave a tip on your way out! Or, click on a google ad to send 3 cents my way ! πŸ˜‰


  29. // Reply

    The problem I often encounter is that the “do not check spelling or grammar” box is neither ticked nor unticked, but “both”, ie shaded green to indicate that the document contains a mixture of both formatting marks. When clicked twice to mark, then clear the mark, it appears to change the status. However when returning to the same box, it turns out nothing has changed, and the box is “greened out” again. (This applies when using ctrl-a to highlight all the text). Setting the language for the whole document likewise doesn't seem to work.


  30. // Reply

    I too get that problem Iggy and have never been able to fully solve it. I do recall that sometimes copying and pasting the whole document into another empty document helping, but not consistently. But, unfortunately, occassionaly there is a document that is not salvageable.


  31. // Reply

    Brilliant! Many thanks for taking the time to provide a clear and simple solution to this nagging problem. I still hate Word 2007 but am glad you took time away from drafting your legal documents to address this issue.

    Cheers.


  32. // Reply

    Thank you for a well explained, well laid-out piece.
    I'm an IT engineer and this is excellent info – I work on a site with hundreds of people getting mail from all over the world. Once in a while a call like this comes through the helpdesk – even M$ doesn't explain things this succinctly.
    You must be a good lawyer : )


  33. // Reply

    Well, I did precisely what you outlined to fix the spell-checker problem for Word 2007. Guess what? Didn't work.


  34. // Reply

    Thanks so Much!!!!! This worked. I must say that the first try I forgot to highlight the document first. It didn't work, then I realized what I did and when I highlighted it and followed instructions, it worked!!! Thanks again!


  35. // Reply

    Sorry to hear that Nate. As you can see from others comments this solution generally works. But, since writing the post I've discovered a few documents where the solution just won't work for me either. It usually does, but about 1 in 10 for me it doesn't and I don't know why.


  36. // Reply

    THANK YOU, Thank you, Thank you. I know this was an old post, but I re-use forms constantly. Your direction solved my “non-spell check”. Much appreciated!! May 2010


  37. // Reply

    Excellent! Still works 90% of the time for me. I'm hoping to move to Office 2010 in the next month or so. I'm hoping this will either not be a problem in Office 2010 OR that this solution will work in that version. I'll update this post in the future once I've had a chance to play with 2010.


  38. // Reply

    This problem has been plaguing my dissertation for months and your solution finally fixed it! I couldn't figure out why copying and pasting into a new document wasn't fixing the problem and why it only applied to certain sections of my document (the parts that I had copied and pasted from other docs). Thank you for taking the time to share this with all of us, despite the unfortunate comments from ungrateful people who have some (or many) other issues.

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