The Challenge of Spell Checkers

Spell Checkers - Spilt coffee by stevepb CC0 Public Domain from Pixabay
Red squiggly line by Peter Giblett

We have come accustomed to it when we write, the red squiggly line the spell checkers spit out to say you had one of those mental moments. You spelt it wrong. It is just like the teacher back in school days getting her red pencil out to highlight your errors.

English or American?

There we have it, problem number one. Most spell checking software consider the past tense of spell as spelled, not spelt. There is a simple reason for this, they are American versions of the dictionary. Even the “British” versions of the dictionaries used in software systems are written by American programmers with little understanding of regional differences in the language. In Britain many regional dialects use spelt, but to Americans this is a type of wheat, grown in Europe. An American uses the word spelled.
As an Englishman living in Canada, during my lifetime I have worked with people from almost every land that speaks the English language. Generally, I continue to write with my home version of this language and not adopting a Canadian (or even American) variant. This means choosing to use words like colour, with the “U” included in them, and use “realise” and not “realize“. I am often the first to notice when the spelling checker is wrong and usually reach for my dictionary (and always have 3 within arms reach) to confirm this fact.
This was how I discovered many problems spelling checkers have. Not mentioning that more than a million words exist in the English language today. New words are added daily. Coders could never keep up.
I am not picking on America here as the “bad guy” They are not. I am simply pointing out that spelling differences crisscross the language. Have you taken a look at the Australian dictionary? Different again.


Spell Checkers Stop by Kurious CC0 Public Domain from PixabayAnother writer, Marilyn Davies, has written about problems with spelling check software also so I am not alone in talking about this. Many writers turn off spell checking for all applications. They are bothered by the silly problems that keep recurring. I do not, because they are useful in highlighting when I have made a typo. I know my typing skills are excellent, but I do slip, occasionally. Additionally I do use grammar checking software, once completing edits.

Yet one further limitation of spell checking is when you misspell something, yet the error is actually still a correctly spelt word. Like using “net” when you intended to use “not“. the problem with this type of error is that they are almost impossible to spot because your mind will almost always trick you into thinking you used the correct word. Only context checking will pick this up.
Believe it or not this is where temporary blindness has assisted me because those dark days caused me to install software that reads text to me and today it is rare for me not to post without having the item read back to me as a part of my quality control routine, which most often finds these errors.

Spell Check

Some problems with spell checkers include:
  • Not good with place names, has some knowledge of American places, but others are often problematic.
  • Works poorly with proper names.
  • Many technical terms need adding to a custom dictionary.
  • Does not find misused, but correctly spelt, words.
  • Does not detect the improper use of homonyms.
  • Flags words as an error yet they are correct (the replacement provides an identical spelling).
  • It doesn’t offer useful suggestions

Nine times out of ten when I am unsure of the spelling I will either Google the attempted spelling or look it up in the dictionary. In all fairness when you know a word but are not sure about the order of the second or third letter then a dictionary search is much more complex, but Google can often find the word you intended.


About the Author

Peter Giblett has spent his life as a business writer creating reports, project plans, justifications etc. Peter has written on-line since 2008, has produced web content for many web sites. He is a writer and moderator for WikinutGobbledeGoox is a new source of inspiration for those looking to improve their writing, blogging, and word-craft skills.




Buy Peter B. Giblett a coffee as a thank you for contributing his thoughts on the power words can bring. All images used here are either owned by Peter Giblett or are CC0 Public Domain.


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2 Replies to “The Challenge of Spell Checkers”

  1. […] checking and grammar checking are all vital. I would say you start with the spell checker linked to your word processor or browser. There are various websites that enable writers to check […]

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