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Word: Where the language settings are stored

April 4, 2011

If you’ve been working in Word for a while, you may have noticed that sometimes a document set to your language reports spelling errors that it shouldn’t (e.g. I set my documents to English (Australia), but parts of the document may be set to English (US), and so the correct Australian spelling of words like ‘organisation’ may be flagged as errors).

Or perhaps when you do a spell check, you get a message saying that areas of your document were set to not check spelling.

What’s going on here?

Well, I don’t know the definitive answer. But I can tell you that there are NUMEROUS places where you can set language settings, both in Word, in Office, and in Windows. If Word finds a conflict in these settings, it does the best it can (no, I don’t know how it makes the decision about which setting to apply).

I’ll try to list as many as I know about — hopefully, these will help you troubleshoot language conflicts or strange spell check reports. (Note: Some of this information is repeated for the various versions of Windows, Office, and Word — I suspect those using Word 2010 and later won’t look at the Word 2003 information, so that’s why I’ve repeated it.)

Windows

  • Start > Control Panel > Region and Language Options: Check the settings on all tabs and under all buttons in the dialog box. Make sure the selected location and language match. NOTE: Windows 10 has separate settings for Region and Language — check both.
  • Start > Control Panel > Date and Time: Set your time zone. While not directly related to language, your time zone should match your location set in the Regional and Language Options (above), unless, of course, you use this computer when traveling.

Office 2003

Office 2007

  • Start > All Programs > Microsoft Office > Microsoft Office Tools > Microsoft Office 2007 Language Settings: Set the Enabled editing languages AND your Primary editing language. (This dialog box can also be accessed from within Word Options.)

Office 2010

  • Start > All Programs > Microsoft Office > Microsoft Office Tools > Microsoft Office 2010 Language Preferences: Choose the editing languages, set one as the default, and tell Windows which language to use for the interface elements such as buttons, tabs, Help, and tooltip text. (This dialog box can also be accessed from within Word’s Options, and from the Review tab — see below.)

Office 2016

  • Start > Office 2016 Language Preferences: Choose the editing languages, set one as the default, and tell Windows which language to use for the interface elements such as buttons, tabs, Help, and tooltip text. (This dialog box can also be accessed from within Word’s Options, and from the Review tab — see below.)

Word 2003

  • Tools > Language > Set Language: This supposedly sets the language for the entire document, but it can be overridden by settings at a more granular level, such as Styles. You can set the Default language here.
  • Tools > Spelling and Grammar: Set the dictionary language here. Also, click Options on this dialog box, then click Settings to see what the grammar checker will check. If you think you’ve added something to the dictionary by mistake, click Options on the Spelling and Grammar dialog box, then Custom Dictionaries, then select the Dictionary Language you’re using and click Modify to edit the words stored in your custom dictionary.
  • Tools > AutoCorrect Options: While not strictly related to language, if you see weird things happening like ‘ACN’ changing to ‘can’ (when you REALLY want ‘ACN’), it’s likely that there’s an AutoCorrect set up to make that change automatically. Check the list at the bottom of the AutoCorrect tab and delete any you don’t want.
  • Styles: There’s an option to set the language for EVERY style! By default, no language is set. But if you think a setting on a style may be the issue, check the style (Format > Styles and Formatting). Right-click on the style and select Modify. On the Modify Style dialog box, click Format > Language to see what language — if any — is set for that particular style. Don’t forget that some styles inherit properties from other styles, so the language may not be set on the style you’re looking at. Also, if Do not check spelling or grammar is set for a particular style, that explains why some sections of your document may be skipped when you run the spell checker.

Word 2007

  • Review tab > Proofing group > Set Language: This supposedly sets the language for the entire document, but it can be overridden by settings at a more granular level, such as Styles. You can set the Default language here.
  • Office button > Word Options > Popular > Language Settings: Set the Enabled editing languages AND your Primary editing language. (Same dialog box as mentioned under Office 2007 above)
  • Office button > Word Options > Proofing > AutoCorrect Options: While not strictly related to language, if you see weird things happening like ‘ACN’ changing to ‘can’ (when you REALLY want ‘ACN’), it’s likely that there’s an AutoCorrect set up to make that change automatically. Check the list at the bottom of the AutoCorrect tab and delete any you don’t want.
  • Office button > Word Options > Proofing > Custom Dictionaries: If you think you’ve added something to the dictionary by mistake, click this button, then select the Dictionary Language you’re using and click Edit word list to edit the words stored in your custom dictionary. You set the Dictionary Language here too.
  • Styles: There’s an option to set the language for EVERY style! By default, no language is set. But if you think a setting on a style may be the issue, check the style. Display the Styles pane, right-click on the style and select Modify. On the Modify Style dialog box, click Format > Language to see what language — if any — is set for that particular style. Don’t forget that some styles inherit properties from other styles, so the language may not be set on the style you’re looking at. Also, if Do not check spelling or grammar is set for a particular style, that explains why some sections of your document may be skipped when you run the spell checker.

Word 2010, Word 2013, Word 2016

  • Review tab > Language group > Language > Set Proofing Language: This supposedly sets the language for the entire document, but it can be overridden by settings at a more granular level, such as Styles. You can set the Default language here.
  • File > Options > Language: (Same dialog box as mentioned under Office 2010 above; also accessible via Review tab > Language group > Language > Language Preferences. )
  • File > Options > Proofing > AutoCorrect Options: While not strictly related to language, if you see weird things happening like ‘ACN’ changing to ‘can’ (when you REALLY want ‘ACN’), it’s likely that there’s an AutoCorrect set up to make that change automatically. Check the list at the bottom of the AutoCorrect tab and delete any you don’t want.
  • File > Options > Proofing > Custom Dictionaries: If you think you’ve added something to the dictionary by mistake, click this button, then select the Dictionary Language you’re using and click Edit word list to edit the words stored in your custom dictionary. You set the Dictionary Language here too.
  • Styles: There’s an option to set the language for EVERY style! By default, no language is set. But if you think a setting on a style may be the issue, check the style. Display the Styles pane, right-click on the style and select Modify. On the Modify Style dialog box, click Format > Language to see what language — if any — is set for that particular style. Don’t forget that some styles inherit properties from other styles, so the language may not be set on the style you’re looking at. Also, if Do not check spelling or grammar is set for a particular style, that explains why some sections of your document may be skipped when you run the spell checker.

See also:

[Links last checked October 2017; updated to include information for Word 2010-2016, Windows 7 and Windows 10 (October 2017)]

6 comments

  1. Thank you so much! My Word 2010 doc has been driving me mad. I’d set all proofing languages to English UK wherever I could find the option but I didn’t know about going into the styles and the pesky (for want of a stronger word) thing had still got body text etc set to English US. WHY??!!!!

    The publication I am writing is full of “organisation” and its derivatives so you can imagine just how annoyed I was. At least it’s fixed now.

    Thank. Goodness.


  2. Hi, thanks for this – However, there is one thing I can’t fix. My default language is set to UK. Everything in the document is in UK English. However, whenever I insert a table; the default language of the table is US English. IF I select the table and change the language and set it as default; then *that* table is set to UK English. However, the next table I insert is back to US. When you modify a table style – there is no language option – which must mean that it is inheriting the language preference from the “Table Normal” style – however, this style is not editable.

    If anyone knows how to fix this – I would be truly grateful.

    Many thanks


  3. Hi Julian

    Try this macro: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/word-macro-to-set-the-language-for-most-eleme/

    It sets the language for almost all elements, though I’m not sure about underlying table styles, which are an abomination in my opinion!

    –Rhonda


  4. Rhonda,

    Thanks very much. That sort of worked – however; the underlying Lang of the table is still US Eng – it added the UK Eng as “Direct Formatting” – what I would really like is to be able to make the table style UK Eng by default…

    Any other ideas?


  5. I couldn’t find anywhere that the underlying language for a table was stored. And in Word 2010, I couldn’t see the behaviour you described — the styles took the language of the styles in each cell, not in a table as far as I could see.

    My only other suggestion is to ask your question on the Microsoft Word community forum — lots of the Word MVPs hang out there: http://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/office/forum/word

    –Rhonda


  6. Fantastic ! I like a bit of French (and am SICK of US English when not appropriate) – but random parts of an inherited template were driving me mad having used File-Options-Language several times, hit keys as hard as possible and sworn – a lot :-)



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