Spell checker rants

The spell checker in Firefox 2 is certainly a great feature. I have already seen lots of people write this and I agree. And yet, it has some certain deficiencies that make me use it far less than it could be. The reason is: it seems to assume that you always write your texts in the same language. Yet I am frequently switching between languages, I write texts in English, German and Russian all the time. And going to the context menu, digging into the languages menu and choosing the right language is just annoying, especially for a short text. There is also another issue: switching languages takes a while, and for a huge dictionary like the German (10 MB) it becomes a major annoyance.

These issues could be solved of course. For example one could make the UI for switching languages more accessible by adding keyboard shortcuts, maybe Ctrl+Shift+1 through Ctrl+Shift+9 (extension, somebody?). Then, when I switch away from a language this probably doesn’t mean that the dictionary should be released — I want it to be kept in memory. I don’t care about the extra 30 MB of memory usage for the German dictionary but I care very much about the 10 seconds delay when Firefox has to load it again.

There is one more problem due to a “feature” in the Russian language. Russian has something that can be called “half a letter” — “ё”. This letter represents a certain sound but it never managed to get really accepted, it is allowed to substitute it by a regular “е”. Consequently there are two Russian dictionaries, one that enforces the use of “ё” and one that required you to substitute “ё” by “е”. Now I am used to the common practice of writing out “ё” in the ambiguous cases only like “все” vs. “всё” — that’s two absolutely different words. However, I cannot do this with either of the two dictionaries. So what I would like to have is the spell checker treating “ё” as an ambiguous letter and accepting both “ё” and “е” for it. I don’t know, are there other languages that have the same problem?


  • chewey

    Probably japanese, as there are multiple ways (and even alphabets!) to spell a certain word.

    I don’t know if something like a spell checker for japanese even exists, and at the moment, my japanese is still too limited to find out (however, I should already be able to order food in a restaurant without offending more than two or three people ;-).

    ではまた, chewey

  • steve

    why does firefox support extensions? dictionary switcher with auto-detection: https://addons.mozilla.org/firefox/3414/

    Wladimir Palant

    Thank you, I will try this extension.

    Wladimir Palant

    Looks like a nice idea but has issues. For example, every time I switch the language manually it will reinitialize the spell checker UI causing the languages to be added to the context menu again. Automatic detection also doesn’t always seem to work properly. Let’s see whether I can fix this…

  • Greg

    I have problems in EN-NZ (New Zealand English) on “etc.” “etc.” comes up misspelt, it suggests “etc.” and thus becomes “etc..”, which also comes up misspelt and so goes to “etc…” and so on.
    The spell checker reads the full stop as an end of sentence and thus not part of the abbreviation. Grr.

    Wladimir Palant

    That’s a mistake in the dictionary. You can locate the file en-NZ.dic in your profile and edit it – simply replace the line “etc.” by “etc”.

  • alta88

    oddly, i’ve never found much use for spell checkers, in any language..

    dictionaries, yes. Dictionary Tooltip extension is very good in its approach and allows fast switching to multiple languages from the same UI; if only one could have the dictionary files locally it would be perfect (or as good as the dictionary).

    non-ascii alphabets, yes. years ago i scoured the web for a way to rapidly enter (any) UTF8 codes all on the same page with a US keyboard. a highly customized Multikey (winOS app) did it; La città di Forlì, в котором żyłyśmy pięċ lat, daß uns gefällt, is a right nice town.

    not a big market for this stuff, but good for parlor tricks..

  • jokoon

    Interesting that in spite of my excellent orthograph (in french), the spell check still corrects me.
    Anyhow, is there any way to use two dictionnaries at the same time ? WOuld that take so much memory ? No way to exclude words of less than 3 letters to flush it a little ?

  • XPM

    Probably japanese, as there are multiple ways (and even alphabets!) to spell a certain word.

    Yes, however none of them would ever really be called “wrong”, though some might be considered a bit unprofessional depending on the context.

    I don’t know if something like a spell checker for japanese even exists, and at the moment, my japanese is still too limited to find out (however, I should already be able to order food in a restaurant without offending more than two or three people ;-).

    I’m not sure what functionality a separate spell checker would provide beyond what would by necessity already be inherent in a wapuro or an IME applet. Kana are 100% regular apart from a handful of particles and kanji can’t really be misspelled on a PC in any normal sense. I suppose it might be useful to catch typos if one were causually firing off an all-kana message.

  • Ndi

    French has similar issues since in common language c cedille is accepted as “c”, as in “Merci”. Same goes for most languages with very similar, but not identical to western, like Romanian who, by the book, has 5 additional letters, with their own sounds. While this is true for formal lettering, normal everyday typing involves substitution, as all 5 are derived off a(2), i, s and t (1 each). There are ambiguous cases, but it’s rarely an issue since the ambiguity is usually eliminated by context.

    I also hate it because ă and a, while they sound somewhat different, should be treated as same when looking for a suggestion.

    For example, partie (ski slope) is suggested as “patrie”, a full 2 letter and one sign away from the best choice, pârtie (pa^rtie for those with no CE).

    For longer words and more characters, it’s broken to the point of no more suggestion – even if an equivalence table would immediately correct all those.

    My best idea yet is to allow for equivalence letters. Example, Romanian – loose could be a spell checker with all the words auto-translated to replace â(a circumflex) with a. It would make it really useful for casual writing. In Romanian, more than one third of the words in normal use have these characters.

    â, ă = a
    î = i
    ş = s
    ţ = t

    Just ranting.

  • Madsen

    Hmmm…can’t install Adblock Plus…I get an “Invalid File Hash” message…I’m using FF and trying to dl from:




    ...neither works :-/

    Any ideas?!

    Wladimir Palant

    Everything is fine here. You might want to check out this thread, maybe the same solution works for you as well?

  • x

    “oddly, i’ve never found much use for spell checkers, in any language.”

    Give me a break, please. Anyone can accidentally mistype a word. It isn’t just about ability to spell.

    My main gripe with the inline spell checker of Firefox 2.0 is that the default US English dictionary sucks! I’m constantly finding relatively simple, common words that aren’t in the dictionary. This happens most commonly with tech words—such as “offline”.

  • Havvy

    What I’d like to be able to do is create your own dictionaries, and be able to say that one dictionary only works at this site, this site, and this site. (Seeing as you can easily find a big website that has more than 2 supporting)

    I just can’t find a way to make special dictionaries that can be used. (For example, a Developer’s Dictionary which has CSS as a correct word)

  • Mr. Eisler

    The case where the spellchecking suggests “etc.” for “etc.” and then writes “etc..” goes for the German dictionary, too. Also, in German you don’t write “email”, because that means enamel in German, but you write “E-Mail” and this causes the Thunderbird spellchecking to handle it as two words. In the end, “E-Mail” gets the red underlining, though it’s in the dictionary.

  • xuser

    Palant, there is Dictionary switcher extension for Firefox: https://addons.mozilla.org/firefox/3414/

    I strongly recomend!

    Wladimir Palant

    Yes, steve already mentioned this extension above. I am already using it and the author is very responsive, he already fixed most of the issues with it. There is one more issue left connected to switching tabs while typing on sites where autodetection doesn’t work – once this is solved the extension will be perfect.

  • matthew


    ::This post is to possibly give those with more knowledge ideas for what at least i would like to see and possibly others::

    I have no help but I have an idea if anyone knows how to make a spell check dictionary is to build combo dictionary’s people who live in the southwest like I do would like a English/Spanish dictionary and i believe there should be these type of combos for every language to combine it with English at least your situation is more complicated but if someone knows maybe they can make you an dictionary that would fit your needs. I am basically agreeing with you that when you download a dictionary they should combine so say you type in 3 different languages each one would combine so if anyone who knows how to possibly make an extension that combines your dictionary’s together or let you choose the dictionaries you want to use at the time rather than one language at a time. i don’t know how to make extensions but i believe it is a large problem with the firefox spell check i personally still have to use a separate website just to spell check because it is so unreliable. Also like word it should automatically capitalize each letter after a period. Just because many people have become used to it from frequent word usage.
    ::Thank you for reading::

  • Robert Hayhurst

    Hmmmm …

    I love the spell checker as well …

    My major problem with it is that if you spell a word like THis ... with two capital letters in a row … it marks it as misspelled — fine — but it has NO CONCEPT what the word should be. In the example above …

    suggestions include


    How is it possible that “this” could not be on the list???

  • Ted

    i am also not a big fan of the spell checker of thunder bird. my main concern is that it doesn’t capitalize things for you. i should be able to at least capitalize cities, the word “I” and after a period for crying out loud!

    i have to re-spell check my emails when i type them even after using spell checker. spelling isn’t my issue but capitalizing is.