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Cannot Add Words to Dictionary

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: Cannot Add Words to Dictionary.

Richard notes that when doing a spelling check in the background, Word dutifully underlines words it thinks are spelled incorrectly. However, when he right-clicks on the word in order to add it to the dictionary, he finds the "add to dictionary" option grayed out, so that he cannot add it.

The most likely cause for this situation is that the language of the word you are trying to add doesn't match the language of the dictionary. Word keeps track of the language of both your text and allows you to specify with what language a dictionary should be associated. You can check the language of your dictionary in this manner:

  1. Choose Options from the Tools menu. Word displays the Options dialog box.
  2. Make sure the Spelling & Grammar tab is displayed.
  3. Click on the Custom Dictionaries button. Word displays the Custom Dictionaries dialog box. (See Figure 1.)
  4. Figure 1. The Custom Dictionaries dialog box.

  5. In the list of dictionaries, select the one you want to check.
  6. Click on the Modify button. Word displays a dialog box showing the words in the dictionary.
  7. At the bottom of the dialog box is the Language drop-down list. This should be set to All Languages.
  8. Close all the open dialog boxes when you are done.

If you have the custom dictionary set to something other than All Languages in step 6, then Word only lets you add words that are in the language you specified. In other words, if you set the language in step 6 to French, then you won't be able to add any words that are in English, German, Spanish, or some other language. You can always set up multiple custom dictionaries and make sure that each of them is configured to the different languages in which you are working.

If the above steps don't solve the problem, then it is possible that you don't have a custom dictionary set up on your system. Of course, if you tried to go through the above steps, you would have noticed fairly easily that there wasn't a custom dictionary—there would have been nothing shown in the Custom Dictionaries dialog box (step 3).

You could also check to make sure that the dictionary is accessible by you and that you have rights to work on it. This potential problem normally only crops up if you are using a custom dictionary on a network and you don't have sufficient permissions to make changes to the file. If you suspect this is an issue in your case, you should talk with your network administrator to get it checked out.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (10907) 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: Cannot Add Words to Dictionary.

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Comments for this tip:

Dave Norby    01 Oct 2015, 08:40
Thanks! Finally a useful set of instructions. Much appreciated.
Julia    22 Aug 2015, 14:29
Thanks Allen! It worked.
Bob Gee    11 Jun 2013, 09:26
That fixed my problem
Steve Wells    06 Nov 2011, 17:15
You can also edit the dictionary files in Notepad (or other plain text editor of choice) regardless of language, but may need to restart Word to make your edits work completely.

Simply edit the custom.dic file in Notepad, assuming you know where to find it (operating system and word version dependent) and have write access to it.

Save your edited custom.dic file, or any other dictionary files that you created within Word, as ASCII text for Word 2003 or as UNICODE text for Word 2007 or later.

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