Office Hours: The next generation of the spell checker

Jonathan Bailor September 15, 2007

Jonathan Bailor

In this week's Office Hours column, our columnist gives you the inside scoop about the changes we made to the Word 2007 spell checker. We think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Applies to
Microsoft Office Word 2007

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Spell checking is not perfect, but I would not have made it through school without it. Despite my love for spelling and grammar checking, I'm aware of its limitations.

Basically, Word will tell you when you have misspelled a word or made a grammar error, but will not help you if you spell a word correctly in the wrong context. For example, think of the times you have been typing away and left the "y" off of "they" or hit the spacebar too early and typed "some time" instead of "sometime." It's never fun to send an e-mail telling someone "Jon and Angela told me that the will meet us at 7 p.m. Some times they are late though."

In these cases, your sentence/phrase could have benefited from some type of Word's squiggly underlines. Unfortunately, previous versions of Word didn't squiggly underline these types of error because nothing was misspelled or grammatically incorrect.

This type of spell checking limitation is epitomized by Jerrold Zar's poem "Ode to My Spell Checker":

Eye halve a spelling checker

It came with my pea sea.

It plainly marks four my revue miss steaks eye kin knot sea.

Eye strike a quay and type a word and weight for it to say

Weather eye yam wrong oar write.

It shows me strait a weigh as soon as a mist ache is maid.

It nose bee fore two long and eye can put the error rite.

Its rare lea ever wrong.

Eye have run this poem threw it,

I am shore your pleased to no.

Its letter perfect awl the way.

My checker told me sew.

With these limitations in mind, in Word 2007 we partnered with the Microsoft Speech & Natural Language group and added contextual spell checking.

For example, in Word 2007 we'll catch errors in each of these sentences, not just the first two:

Example 1 of Word 2007 contextual spell checking

As always, the red squiggly underline indicates a spelling error and the green squiggly underline indicates a grammar error. Word 2007 introduces blue squiggly underlines to flag words that are likely inappropriate given their context. In the third sentence, when you right-click on "loose" we suggest "lose." Here are a few more examples of what I am talking about:

Example 2 of Word 2007 contextual spell checking

The Microsoft Speech & Natural Language group that created this technology has a great blog and a specific blog post on contextual spell checking here.

To wrap-up, contextual spell checking is a step in the right direction, and, I am somewhat embarrassed to say, it is my favorite new feature in Word 2007.

About the author

Jonathan Bailor is a program manager on the Office Word team at Microsoft. Over the past three years he has worked on a variety of projects with the Word and Live Search teams, including the Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint 2007 File Formats, the Office Open XML file format, the Word Team's Blog, and Internet search relevancy. When he's not at Microsoft, you can often find Jonathan at the local athletic club or library.

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Applies to:
Word 2007