Inconsistent Adding of Words to a Custom Dictionary

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated December 7, 2020)
This tip applies to Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003


William wrote about a problem he was having adding certain words to his custom dictionary. Word inconsistently adds these words—including names and terms borrowed from other languages; some with accents—to the dictionary.

There are three potential causes of this problem. First, it is possible that your custom dictionary file is getting too large. This is unlikely, however, unless you are using Word 97. With this older version of Word there is a limit of 5,000 words in a dictionary and a maximum file size of 64K. If the size goes larger than that, Word ignores anything past the 64K limit. You should check, within Windows, the size of the file. If it is a size issue, your options are to either delete some words from the custom dictionary, or to start using a secondary custom dictionary file. This limitation does not apply to later versions of Word, where the file size and number of entries is essentially unlimited.

The second potential cause is more likely, however, given the fact that you are adding foreign-language words to custom dictionary. The custom dictionary is a plain-text file. Some foreign words cannot be properly represented in a plain-text file, and rely instead upon Unicode characters. When you add them to the dictionary, Word converts them to as close of an equivalent as it can, but the words are still not the same. When you later enter the same foreign word, it is marked as incorrect since that exact word—with its exact character coding—cannot be found in the dictionary. Unfortunately, there is no way around this problem in Word.

The third potential cause is related to where Word stores its custom dictionary. Under certain circumstances, Word could create the custom dictionary in the wrong folder of your system. This can lead to potential problems, particularly when it comes to sharing the dictionary with other Office applications. The problem only seems to occur if you specify a non-standard location for the dictionary in the Tools setting of the File Locations dialog box. You can find more information about this problem in this Knowledge Base article:

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (1344) applies to Microsoft Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...


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What is two less than 6?

2014-09-01 05:34:53


Hi Steev,

You seem to have underestimated the problem. It's not due to some default Settings issue.

The fallacy of Grammar Check in Word is widely known. In fact, you'll find articles about Editing, specifically warning against relying on it. I appreciate the fact that it is difficult to formulate Rules for Grammar Check because of inherent contradictions and exceptions in English Language. Many times the intentions of the Writer discriminates the direct applications of Rules. You'll find answers to many grammar questions include the phrase, 'It depends...!'

My grouse is not about Grammar Check's fallacies but about the arbitrary greying of two important options 'Ignore All' and "Add to Dictionary' for errors(!) it marks. All I want is that Microsoft should make these options always available for all errors marked.

2014-08-28 06:49:48

Steve Wells

K.Vee: Problems with Grammar checking are sometimes the result of actual grammar errors that the user may not understand. Very often, they are a side effect of the default grammar rules.
Click Tools > Options to open the Options dialog box. On the Spelling & Grammar tab, click the Settings button to adjust the rules that Word applies.
For your styles, you might want to clear the Detect language automatically check box or set the language explicitly to English. I had to change the settings for some work documents because auto detection analyzed a company address in San Jose (California, USA) and checked my English documents according to spellings in Brazilian Portuguese.

2014-08-28 01:56:00


Hi Steve Wells,

It's nice of you to have given suggestions in detail.

The main problem I face with Grammar Check of Word is that it arbitrarily marks Words as errors - even for normal words sometimes, and with 'Ignore Once' as only useable(?) option in the Dialogue Box! Worse is some of its suggestions are wrong straightaway. I don't know why Microsoft has chosen to deny options 'Ignore All', and 'Add to Dictionary' for most of its markings!

There is no consistency in Grammar Check's behavior. Opening the Dic file every now and then to add is tedious.

Is there any solution/tip for this issue?

2014-08-26 13:41:54

Steve Wells

My earlier comment about "leading capitals not withstanding" refers to the alphabetization in dictionary (dic) files based on ASCII code, in which upper case letters come before lower case. Word would store an entry of AcS before abb because 65 (code for A) comes before 97 (code for a). But if you place entries manually within a dictionary file, Word will not change the order. All this has nothing to do with how Word respects the entry. It SHOULD respect any entry with simple (non-accented, non-Unicode) characters. Debbie, I suggest that you examine the actual dictionary file. Open CUSTOM.DIC in a text editor (such as Notepad) to see if it contains your AcS entry. Delete any wrong version, (acs, ACS, or the like) and add the correct version (AcS). Close all Microsoft Office applications (including Outlook) because manual changes won't take effect until the next time Office (not just Word) restarts. If Word proofing doesn't respect the capitalization after that, check for language settings in the styles in use, especially Normal style. If automatic language detection is enabled, your unusual word may trigger problems.
By the way, you can create and enable additional custom dictionaries with any reasonable names (I have technology.dic, people.dic, companies.dic) to keep related entries together, for example to have a dictionary with all the names of clients, or to included all the specific terms and abbreviations that your organization uses.

2014-08-22 14:28:18


I have an issue similar to Steve's. I added my word, AcS, to the Custom Dictionary, but keep getting a capitalization error. How can I add the term that accounts for the capitalization?

2014-06-07 07:17:02


Hi Allen - recently installed office 2013 and I no longer have the option of automatically adding words by right-clicking on a "mis-spelled" word. I found this a very convenient tool in previous versions of word.

Do you know how to set automatically add word to custom dic?

I know this is a probably a silly query but it's driving me nuts...


2014-06-06 19:47:49

Steve Wells

Sue asks how to delete an incorrectly approved entry in the custom dictionary.

The custom.dic file is simple ASCII text. Open the file in Notepad (for example) and delete any entries that you don't want. Save the amended version. You can also add other words manually if you'd like. I try to keep mine in proper alphabetical order as Word does, leading capitals not withstanding.

Where that file is located depends on the operating system.
I am running Windows 7, and the file is in:

2014-05-12 09:43:24


What's an easy way to remove an entry from your custom dictionary? For example, on occasion, I acted too quickly and have entered a misspelled word.

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