The Mac's Automatic Spelling Correction

You Can Turn Auto Correct On or Off by Application

Spelling and Grammar Menu
You will always find options to control the various functions in the application's Edit menu, under the Spelling and Grammar item. Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

One complaint I have run into with the Mac operating system is its auto-correct spelling feature. OS X Snow Leopard and earlier already had a spell checker that could check your spelling as you type, but the newer version of the spell checker can be a pain in the dictionary. The new auto-correct function is very aggressive about wanting to make changes to spelling; it also makes changes so quickly that you may not notice that a word you typed has been changed.

Fortunately, all the versions of the Mac operating system from OS X Lion and on include a system that provides a good degree of control over the spell checker. It gives you the choice to not only enable the spell checker on a system-wide basis but also to turn it on or off for individual applications.

Even better, depending on the app you may have additional levels of control beyond simply turning the spell checker on or off. As an example, Apple Mail can have the spell checker check and only highlight errors while you type. Or you can have spelling checking done when you're ready to send a message.

Enable or Disable Automatic Spelling Correction System-Wide

  1. Launch System Preferences, either by clicking the System Preferences icon in the Dock, or by selecting System Preferences from the Apple menu.
  2. If you're using OS X Lion or Mountain Lion select the Language & Text preference pane. If you're using OS X Mavericks through OS X El Capitan or any of the newer versions of the macOS select the Keyboard preferences.
  3. In the Language & Text or Keyboard preference pane, select the Text tab.
  4. To enable the automatic spelling check, place a check mark next to the Correct Spelling Automatically item.
  5. You can also use the Spelling drop down menu to select a preferred language to use or select the Automatic by Language, which will allow the operating system to use the best spelling match for the language in use.
  6. To disable the automatic spelling check, remove the check mark next to the Correct Spelling Automatically item.
Keyboard preference pane
The Text tab in the Keyboard preference pane is where you will find the system-wide spelling options. Screenshot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

Enable or Disable Automatic Spelling Correction by Application

Apple also embedded the ability to control spell-checking functions on an application-by-application basis. This per-application system will work with software that has been updated to work with Lion or later. Older applications may not have the ability to turn spell checking on or off, or they may have their own built-in spell-checking system that supersedes the one built into OS X.

Depending on the application, the ability and options available to control spell checking will vary. In this example, I'm going to turn off the auto-correct feature in Apple Mail. I'll let the spell-checker retain the ability to point out an error as I type, but not to auto-correct it.

  1. Launch Apple Mail.
  2. Open a new message window. The text insertion point needs to be in an editable area of the message, so click in the body of the message.
  3. Click Mail's Edit menu and let your cursor hover over the Spelling and Grammar item (but don't click). This will reveal a sub-menu with various options.
  4. Options that are enabled will have check marks next to them. Selecting an item from the menu will toggle the check mark on or off, depending on its current state.
  5. To turn off auto-correction, remove the check mark next to Correct Spelling Automatically.
  6. To allow the spelling checker to warn you of errors, enable a check mark next to Check Spelling, While Typing.
  7. The menu entries in other applications may look slightly different, but if the application supports the system-wide Spelling and Grammar system, you will always find options to control the various functions in the application's Edit menu, under the Spelling and Grammar item.

One last note: Setting application-level Spelling and Grammar options may not take effect until you restart the application.