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Creating a Spelling Exclusion List

Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. If you are using a later version (Word 2007 or later), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for later versions of Word, click here: Creating a Spelling Exclusion List.

The spell checker used by Word can be a great tool, but sometimes it seems that words you know should be in the dictionary aren't and other words that are there seem silly or are outright wrong. In either case, it would be nice to edit the default Word spelling dictionary.

Unfortunately, the default dictionary used by Word is stored in a binary format and is not editable. There is a two-fold approach that Microsoft has chosen to implement when it comes to the dictionaries. First, you can use custom dictionaries. These are text files that allow you to add words the spell checker should consider as being spelled OK. Editing the custom dictionaries is discussed fully in different WordTips issues.

The second approach is that you can use exclude lists. The exclude list is a text file following the same format as the custom dictionaries (a text file with a single word on each line). The difference is that these words are marked as incorrectly spelled no matter what. Thus, it is a backwards way to "remove" words from the default dictionary.

Exclude files, again, are standard text files. This means you can edit them with any text editor, such as Notepad, or with a word processor such as Word. The exclude file must be located in the same directory as the dictionary files and it must have the same root name, but with a file extension of EXC. Depending on the type of system you are using, what upgrading you have done, and which version of Word you are using, it seems that the spelling files could be in just about any place on your system. (Well, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but there are a half dozen or so places.)

The easiest way to find where the exclude file should be located is to find where your default dictionary is located. Use your favorite "find file" method to simply look for all files ending with a file extension of LEX. These are your default spelling tool files used by Word and other Office applications; the default dictionary file begins with MSSP and ends with the extension LEX. Wherever these reside is where your exclude file should also reside.

To create the exclude file, follow these general steps:

  1. Open Notepad. It should contain a blank document.
  2. Enter the words you want excluded by Word. The words should be one per line, and you should include all the forms or possessives of the word. Thus, if you wanted to exclude theater, you should also include theaters and theater's.
  3. Save the file in the directory you already determined. Use a file name that is the exact same as the default dictionary, but use the EXC extension instead of the LEX extension.
  4. Close Notepad.
  5. Restart Word.

This last step is important, because Word only pays attention to the exclude file or to new words it contains when you first start the program.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (1037) applies to Microsoft Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. You can find a version of this tip for the ribbon interface of Word (Word 2007 and later) here: Creating a Spelling Exclusion List.

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