Contextual spelling in the 2007 Microsoft Office system


One of the nice innovations in the 2007 Microsoft Office system is the contextual spelling checker. Everyone knows the red wavy lines which appear under misspelled words, i.e. words which are not included in the Office speller lexicon. They are usually considered as an extremely useful feature to spot the odd typo, remind you that recieve should in fact be spelled receive, that informations with an -s does not exist in English, or that occurence takes a double ‘c’ and a double ‘r’ (occurrence). You may also use the grammar checker which may be useful to spot grammatical mistakes like agreement errors, as in:


 


My friend spend two weeks in Colorado every year.


 


The grammar checker will cause a green squiggle to appear under “friend spend” and will suggest “friends spend” or “friend spends”. It’s of course up to the user to choose the suitable correction, since no tool will know the exact intention of the writer.


 


One of the problems with the traditional spell-checker and grammar checker is that they are usually not able to spot contextual errors, i.e. when an existing word is used in the wrong context. Take the following example, which is grammatically (i.e. syntactically) correct:


 


How do your two roles compliment each other?


 


In this context, the verb complement (with -e-) should be used instead of compliment. The traditional spell-checker cannot spot that mistake since both verbs exist in the lexicon and that tool does not know anything about the context. The grammar checker does not see the problem because the syntactic analysis relies upon information about the part of speech of the words and the sentence is correct in this respect.


 


The 2007 Microsoft Office system, whose Beta 2 version was made available to the public at large very recently, now has a new feature to solve this vexing issue: blue squiggles appear under words which are used in the wrong context, like compliment above, which is now flagged by the new version of the Office system.


 


The following sentences illustrate this cool new feature (if you type them in Word 2007, the word in italics will be squiggled with these blue wavy lines; right-click on the word and you’ll see the suggestion I reproduce between parentheses):


 


He bought a pear of shoes. (-> pair)


He was loosing too much time. (-> losing)


You cannot associate this account on more then one mailbox. (-> than)


 


Look at the screenshot below. Haven’t you been dreaming about that feature for a long time? I have and I can assure you that I’ll make sure my kids use it!


 


The team that worked on this feature in our group did a really great job and I now regularly see blue squiggles under a whole gamut of mistakes which had gone unnoticed so far. I’m convinced this can only improve the linguistic quality of my own documents…


 


Thierry Fontenelle


Microsoft Speech & Natural Language group


 


Comments (70)

  1. Hi,

    Maybe you should have also mentioned that this featured is not enabled by default (or it wasn’t in my installation).

    You have to click on the big Office button (I think its official name is the File menu), click on Word Options, click on Proofing on the left menu and check the Contextual Spelling box.

    By the way, does this work in other languages? I tried coming up with examples in French and Spanish, but the few I could imagine weren’t underlined…

  2. MSDN Archive says:

    Mauricio,

    You are absolutely right, it’s not "on" by default and you indeed have to click on Word Options | Proofing | Use Contextual Spelling (check box).

    Right now, contextual spelling is available in Spanish and German as well.

    Thierry Fontenelle [MSFT]

  3. I thought we already had that in ours.

  4. Robert says:

    "I have and I can assure you that I’ll make sure my kids use it!"

    It seems a shame that we’re so willing to ruin our children for the sake of good appearances.

    Making sure someone uses a tool such as this will ensure that a class of their mistakes is not seen by anyone else, but it hardly serves as a replacement for education.

    As spell checking, and various other fail-safes become more prolific the quality of ones writing decreases. Sure, it may seem as though your writing is superb, but sit down with a pencil and paper and see just how many times you are questioning the spelling of a word.

    We hardly need people that cannot distinguish between the multiple spellings/uses of they’re/their/there, relying only upon software to ensure they have it correct.

  5. sunnyval3 says:

    RObert!

    You are paritally correct in the point you have made. I agree to the fact that childern should not be allowed to become dependable upon such tools but what about the adults who are bad at such things and have no one with enough time to guide them through such small but  very important mistakes. I have suffered from the same problem. The feature if kept enabled by default will help more and more people to know about it, even those who do not explore extra features a lot. i consider it to be a very good tool to learn the correct context for a word, without being dependent upon anybody and in very less time.It will suggest you the new, correct word and then one can find the meaning of both the correct and incorrect words in dictionary and compare them to know; why it was a wrong usage.

  6. drew says:

    Robert – the tool will teach children what is wrong and help show them what is right. This is a good thing.

  7. parent and student says:

    Robert,

    Are you kidding me?  

    "It seems a shame that we’re so willing to ruin our children for the sake of good appearances."

    I teach my kids to use all the tools at their disposal.  I also encourage them to think and not just click OK to every dialog box.

    I’m afraid to ask your approach.  Would you prefer your children wait for a parent or teacher to review the document and then make changes?  You have to see the inefficiencies and impact of human error in that process.

  8. Ahmed says:

    I think Robert is right;

    Once a child or adult realises that Office is pretty good with its suggestions, s/he will blindly accept what word suggests. Not only that, but even if the person were to look, how would they know WHY word is making this suggestion?

    Maybe a way to solve this problem would be to have word also tell you why it is making the suggestion and not just give it to you. I have used a professional French language correction tool in the past and it did quite a good job at justifying all its decisions.

    Regardless, this is a VERY good feature and I am sure it will soon become indispensable.

  9. I Greental says:

    The next step seems to me that my Office installation should adapt to the documents in my computer and gradually improve the language model for this spell checker.

    And while it’s at it, it could recognize named entities I have mentioned in the past.

  10. Dylan Greene says:

    Why have this great selling point turned off by default?  

  11. As a writer and a writing teacher, I think it’s a great idea!

  12. Office 2007 will come with a new spellchecker that is able to do contextual spellchecking. Yay!…

  13. Ravi Shahani [MSFT] says:

    The feature is on by default depending on how much RAM you have (currently for 1 GB and above).

  14. I just read this: Contextual spelling in the 2007 Microsoft Office system

    I have been wondering what…

  15. Luka says:

    will this tool help find mistakes like the one you made in your header:

    "We come from France, Belgium, or Canada."

    I suppose you come from France, Belgium, AND Canada.

  16. Great news for fast-fingered slow-brained writers everywhere: the 2007 Microsoft Office System features…

  17. durlabh says:

    All talk apart, I am really impressed. Good work guys.

  18. Lefty says:

    Does anyone know how Microsoft defines "context" for this feature?  I know that the Google search engine spell-checker uses all the words on the Web as context.  Is MS using analyses of text on the Web or printed bodies of writing to assess whether a real-word string in a document is wrong?  I’ve been playing around with the feature and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.  I wonder what algorithms are being used here.

  19. durlabh says:

    Web or printed bodies of writing to assess whether a real-word string in a document is wrong?  I’ve been playing around with the feature and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.  I wonder what algorithms are being used here.

  20. Nidonocu says:

    After typing and seeing the blue squiggle for the first time I was pleasantly surprised. It has now turned to shock though as I realise how often I get its and it’s wrong. This new feature has been helping me spell better and helps my writing of anything seem a lot less 12 year oldish. 😉 Thanks so much.

  21. compugab says:

    Why good thing are always release in other language that french? It was the same for IE7 Beta 2. We have learn to write in Québec too :D.

  22. MSDN Archive says:

    Hi Compugab,

    Thanks for your valuable feedback. Many crucial improvements were released very recently (a few months ago only) for the French language (an improved grammar checker, a brand-new and totally revamped spell-checker which recognizes the spelling recommended by the Conseil Supérieur de la Langue Française and the Académie Française, as well as feminine job titles, which are all features that are crucial in Quebec and elsewhere in the French-speaking world). I invite you to read the blog I posted last week precisely on the improvements which served Quebec users of our French tools: http://blogs.msdn.com/correcteurorthographiqueoffice/archive/2006/05/29/609807.aspx (I was in Montréal last month to talk about all these improvements).

    The various other improvements are described elsewhere on this blog: on feminine job titles (which is a very sensitive issue in Quebec, as you know: http://blogs.msdn.com/correcteurorthographiqueoffice/archive/2005/10/24/484025.aspx), on the spelling reform (which is also taught in Quebec and recommended by the Ministry of Education): http://blogs.msdn.com/correcteurorthographiqueoffice/archive/2005/10/16/481531.aspx

    The references given in the section "They talk about these tools" to the right of this blog also include several links to how the Quebec press (and elsewhere) covered these major recent improvements which benefit all those who write documents in French. You will find articles from Le Soleil, the Journal de Montréal and Le Devoir, amongst others…

    Thanks,

    Thierry Fontenelle [MSFT]

    Microsoft Speech & Natural Language group

  23. compugab says:

    Hum thank for the links french is so interesting :D.

    By the way, can we hope to see the french contextual corrector in RC1 or RTM? It will be really usefull.

    Thanks

  24. TechieBird says:

    Is there anywhere we can submit specific feedback about this tool?  For instance, I couldn’t find an incorrect substitution of affect/effect (a personal bugbear) that triggered the blue squiggles.

    Great tool, btw, absolutely love it.

  25. Dependent, not dependable.

    Should that be a blue or a green squiggly?

    Did anyone remember to add the word "squiggly" to  the dictionary?

  26. Michael says:

    If you read Jensen Harris’s Offic UI blog at: http://blogs.msdn.com/jensenh/archive/2006/06/13/629124.aspx

    he says:

    "(Note: I seem to recall that the feature is disabled in Beta 2 below a certain system memory threshold because it takes a lot of memory to perform all of the contextual analysis.)"

    -Michael

    http://theplaz.com

  27. Froom says:

    Does it handle "Principle Consultant" ?

    Back in my day (when people spelled their title correctly), one was a Principal Consultant.

    These days, you seem not to meet a PC that seems to be some sort of ethical authority.

  28. Alex says:

    Is there a way to add Slovak (or any other) proofing tools to Office 2007 beta2?

    TIA

  29. Ankur says:

    very useful, always needed that

  30. pf.org says:

    Won of the moist exciting knew features in Microsoft Office 12 is contextual spell-check in Word. In other words, Microsoft’s engineers and programmers took the technology in they’re grammar czech and applied it too the problem of homonyms. Word will

  31. old one says:

    Say bonne poor eviter bow coo dare hours

  32. Crocodile says:

    >> Making sure someone uses a tool such as this will ensure that a class of their mistakes is not seen by anyone else, but it hardly serves as a replacement for education. <<

    Quite the contrary, this feature IS education, constantly on, when you most need it. For spelling, it’s extremely valuable — growing up in a foreign country, I never had my English spelling corrected by a live person, and I learned most of it from red squiggles. Even in English-speaking countries, availability of live spelling teachers is very low compared to always-ready MS word.

    Of course, in matters like grammar, and especially style, similar feature becomes much less useful.

    Very often, people don’t really need explanations of *why* something is correct or not, most of language acquisition (in early childhood) is based just on a bunch of random examples — why would spelling/grammar need to be any different.

  33. Lefty says:

    The idea that the new "contextual" spell-checker in Word can serve as education is scary, esp since "context" here seems to be based on a few simple rules rather than on any real understanding of the syntax or semantics of the surrounding text. One day, when spell-checkers really seem to understand what we’re saying or trying to say, then they might be authorities of some sort, but that day is apparently far off.

  34. It’s incredible how quickly you can get used to a great new feature – and start to resent the limitations,…

  35. Mike says:

    Is there any update/fixes to the language autodetection code? I bugged an issue with Word 2003, where detection of English after a sequence of French or Spanish text always resets the language ID to English(US). THis is very annoying if your textsettings for the document, text block or keyboard are English(UK), English(Australia) etc. The price for getting detection of other languages is losing your English locale identity.

  36. J’ai eu l’occasion de parler sur ce blog (en anglais) du nouveau correcteur contextuel introduit pour

  37. My colleagues from the Speech group have blogged rather extensively about Speech recognition in Vista

  38. Bob says:

    Is it just me or are all the people commenting on this feature TERRIBLE at spelling and grammar!

  39. ravi says:

    microsoft office soft ware downloading

  40. James D says:

    Yes it is a stellar feature, unfortunately I am browsing the web right now because mine doesn’t work. I have 2 accounts on this computer. One spell check works, the other it doesn’t. — The search continues–

  41. J. J. says:

    I have, unfortunately, bought OFFICE 2007 and found out there is no way to get proofing tools for Spanish (I bought the German version) for my Office 2007 Home and Students. I called MS-Support and the "operator" didn’t seem to know anything about it. After long minutes keeping me waiting and asking other colleagues he said there was no way, but buy Office 2007 Professional. Can anyone help me on this? My piece of advice to those who want to buy Office 2007, don’t. Use Openoffice, Staroffice or use Office 2003.

  42. MSDN Archive says:

    Hello,

    Individual Language Packs are currently only available for purchase by customers who are upgrading their Office 2007 trial into a paid-for copy.

    To see this, go to this page http://buy20.trymicrosoftoffice.com/buyus/, put a version in your cart, then scroll to the bottom of the 2nd screen to add a Language Pack to you basket.

    The ability to purchase these directly via Office Online using a Buy Now button is expected to go live in a few weeks.

    I hope it helps,

    Thierry Fontenelle [MSFT]

  43. John Thiesmeyer says:

    Word’s new contextual-spelling feature is welcome, but no panacea.  In my test of around 50 examples, Word 2007 now identifies something under half the spelling mistakes that Word 2003 missed, but still fails to flag a great many common mistakes–e.g., unchartered waters, key precedence, goodness sake, proved her metal, confidant of success, and on and on.  Of 25 test phrases that should be either compounded or hyphenated (work ups, cover alls, under water swimmer, etc.), Word 2007 gets  13, just 3 more than Word 2003 managed.  The usage check finds none of my examples (between everybody, bored of, amount of children, etc.) and the check for wordiness ditto.  I know of software that catches all these and thousands more mistakes and infelicities that even Word’s latest checkers miss.  And WordPerfect’s Grammatik still does a better job with faulty syntax, by the way.    

  44. mahmoodi says:

    if office 2007 spelling support farsi language ?

    (I install this language on my system)

  45. Arif Khandakar says:

    If spell check does not work at all, see if the following corrects the issue:

    – Exit all Office applications

    – Go to Start/Run

    – Type: regedit and click OK

    – In the Registry go to

    HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareMicrosoftShared ToolsProofingTools1.0Override

    -Select Overrrid , you will see  “en-US” registry key in the right side of your window(select the key)

    – From the File menu, click Export. Provide any file name and location for the key to make a backup copy of it (You can skip this step if you want since this key is self-repairing – a new one will be generated automatically)

    – From the Edit menu, click Delete

    – Exit the Registry and see if your spell check works.

  46. justin says:

    Hey Arif, I don’t know if you’re still around but my spell check for 2007 doesn’t work AT ALL (There are no red wavy lines anywhere even if I type "ajkergn").  I did as you said but once I got to the 1.0 folder, there was no Override.  After 5 very stressful hours of trying to figure it out, I thought I had found the answer but… I’m back to square one now.  I figure the reason my spellcheck doesn’t work is because I’m missing that registry key no?  Now I want to know how that happened…

  47. Patsy Boone says:

    My Microsoft Office 2007 does not have a spell check dictionary.  It tells me everything checks okay when it does not.  

    Please help me.

  48. Lors de mon passage en Belgique il y a quelques mois, j’ai eu le plaisir de retrouver quelques enseignants

  49. joan madden says:

    My spell check is not working no matter what I do. Went into word options and checked everything possible. Still not working. The only options are to buy spell check. Shouldn’t it come with the MS Office Home and Student?

  50. George King says:

    I was spell checking a word in a reply to an email and the spell checker had a wavie line under aword. I clicked on the suggested replacement word and everything went blank? Why??  Where did it go and can I get it back???

  51. Steven Flostrand says:

    I recently upgraded to Windows Vista and Word 2007 on a brand new Dell laptop, high-powered as I know that Vista likes memory.  I type a lot in French, although my laptop and software is UK-English.  I am finding that when I switch a document to French (all or some) the speed of Word 2007 is extremely slow.  The software takes up to 50% of both CPUs and the writing cannot even keep up with my touch typing.  I cannot use the arrow keys to move the cursor, as it takes well over two minutes to cover a single line.  What is happening?  Why so slow?  The problem does not exist on English-language documents, so it must be linked to some dynamic or web-enabled spelling checker / thesaurus in Word 2007.  The software is practically useless for writing in French and I am using the Outlook editor to write documents, in order to avoid it.  Thnanks in advance for any advice.

  52. A few days ago, I discovered an analysis of our Office 2007 contextual speller carried out by Prof. Graeme

  53. maddenn says:

    thank you so much about the blue underline, it didn;t work for me, but now It works :):):) All the best!!!

  54. Dan says:

    I was reading about this spell check and it sounds like a good idea. However, I’m not sure if it has been discussed, but what about the situation where you haven’t spelled the word correctly at all? In other words you write something like. "I put my clothes in a buro of drawers." It would be nice the context could help the spellcheck suggest words that have to do with the context rather than suggesting something like burro or burp which make no sense in this sentence.

  55. Brian says:

    I have contectual spelling turned on and Office 2007 Ultimate does not do spell check corretly. I called Microsoft and they wanted 59.00 from Rishi Sahmi (who would not conect me to Microsoft support personel in the US), and Spell check worked fine in Office Pro 2003? Evidentally some of you don’t understand that Microsoft has a 600+ dollar program that is a piece of crap. I also ised all the options in Excel and had to turn on all the add-ons to get to the old features. What a piece of crap. My suggestion is to wait until the bugs are fixed before selling a product.

    Take it from a professional with 12+ years of experience as a systems analyst….Systems Analyst. Office 2007 is a piece of crap.

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  57. Melanie says:

    for legal descriptions this is a useless feature- the program doesn’t understand the context to begin with- I keep getting "erors" – possible word choice error- when using the word "said".  If it is used as : "said section" or "said centerline" it is fine but "said point" this stupid program wants me to use sand instead of said.

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  63. filme noi says:

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