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How-to: Fixing macOS spellcheck and dictionaries

Over the last few months I’ve been annoyed to no end by Apple macOS’s stupid and illogical dictionaries.
Correct words getting corrected to a language I don’t know or care for. Questionable grammar decisions and other nonsense.

This started happening in macOS Sierra, but got better with updates. It then happened again in macOS High Sierra and I thought; “oh well, annoying, I’ll just turn it off”. And from what I found on the internet that’s what many people did.

But now in macOS Mojave it’s the worst – And adding Spanish to my vocabulary I kinda requires me to have a working spellchecker and functional dictionary. My Spanish sucks…

So, on-and-off I’ve been looking for a solution. Resetting this, deleting that config file. Installing Grammarly (or considering it). Scouring forums for answers. The general consensus seems to be that Apple sucks at words and you should turn off spellcheck.

But then I figured it out…

How to fix the macOS Spellchecker

Turns out it’s a matter of proper configuration. And Apple did it wrong, or too generic. This works for me in macOS Mojave, but it’ll probably work in Sierra, High Sierra and older macOS’, too. I’ve been using this for almost a week now and spellcheck has been nice since I applied these settings.

1. In System Preferences, open the “Keyboard” Preference Pane.

2. In the Keyboard Preference Pane go to the “Text” tab. In there click the dropdown menu and you can set it to your language. This makes macOS look only for the correct spelling and grammar in your language. This means that if you chose English and you type something in Spanish, you’ll have a bad time. macOS will think every word is wrong.

I find that it’s better to set it to “Automatic by Language”.

3. In the bottom of the dropdown menu, where you set your language you’ll see “Set Up…”, click it.

4. In the little screen that pops up, uncheck everything you don’t care for. And drag the ones you do want to use to the top in the order you think is important. I don’t use most of these languages, so I disabled pretty much all of them. I only use English, Dutch and Spanish, so I kept those – In the order of importance to me.

And that’s it. Close and save all screens and macOS’ spellcheck should now look for the correct words and be smarter.

Fixing macOS word lookup dictionaries

Much in the same way the macOS spellchecker works, you can look up words, too. You can do so in most screens simply by right clicking words and select “Look Up ‘(word)'”. This is cool, but it only works for English.

Again, I use English, Dutch and Spanish. Now I don’t really care for the Spanish meaning of words, but I do care for the Spanish – English translation. So here’s what I did to make that more intuitive.

1. In Applications open the “Dictionary” app and go to Preferences.

2. In the Preferences screen you’ll see a big list of dictionaries and grammar books. Deselect everything you don’t care for and select everything you do care for. Also drag them to the top in the order you think is important.
As you’ll see in my screenshot, I use Apples default dictionary, and supplement that with the New Oxford Dictionary. And I added a Dutch and Spanish dictionary in there, but also Dutch – English and Spanish – English translations.

3. Once done, close and save all screens.

Using macOS Dictionaries and word lookup

1. Open up any text document, website or whatever and right click a word you want to look up its definition for. This should work on every text where you can type or select the text.

2. Clicking “Look Up (word)” will pop up a little screen with your choice of dictionaries.

That’s neat. But what if you can’t select the word in the text. For example, you’re reading something off-screen or it’s a menu item somewhere you can’t select the text of.

You can still easily look things up via Spotlight. Just make sure the definition option is enabled for “Spotlight” in “System Preferences.

1. Open the “Spotlight” Preference Pane in System Preferences.

2. In the settings make sure that “Definition” is on. If you also want unit and currency conversions, enable “Conversion” as well.
On a sidenote: As you’ll notice, I unchecked a lot of options, because I don’t want spotlight looking at that when I search stuff. Keep things simple, it’ll work faster…

3. Close the settings and type a word in Spotlight. You can open Spotlight by clicking the little looking glass at the top right or by pressing the ‘Command’ and ‘Space’ keys on your keyboard.

4. Type a word in the search bar that appears in the middle of the screen and select “Definition” from the results. For some words it’ll automatically go to the definition, which is even faster.

Unit and Currency conversion with macOS Spotlight

A lesser known function of Spotlight is that you can convert all kinds of units and money with it. If you’ve enabled Conversion in spotlight. Take a look at the various conversions you can make in mere seconds without extra Apps.

macOS knows about most units and measurements. And most common currency. For example for me – Philippine Pesos can not be converted to Euros. Neither can Mexican Pesos – Which is a bummer as I need that one the most. But Euros to USD/AUD/CAD/GBP and all kinds of common currency works.

Have fun 🙂

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