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How to Remove a Word You Added to the Dictionary on Mac OS X

Most Mac applications use the operating system’s spell check feature, and share the same personal dictionary. So if you add a custom word to your dictionary in one application, other Mac apps won’t detect it as a typo in the future. But there’s no obvious way to remove a word from the dictionary if you accidentally add one.

Some Mac applications–such as Microsoft Word and other Microsoft Office apps–use their own dictionary, so this doesn’t apply to them. However, many applications, even cross-platform ones like Google Chrome, use the Mac dictionary.

Quickly Remove a Word You Just Added

If you just added a word to your dictionary, Mac OS X provides a quick way to remove it. However, applications need to actually implement the “remove a word” feature, and few do. it doesn’t matter which application you added the word from–assuming it added the word to the system dictionary, which most applications do, you can quickly remove it from TextEdit.

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For example, let’s say you just accidentally added “teh” to your dictionary in Google Chrome for Mac instead of correcting it to “the.” Chrome and other Mac applications will no longer mark “teh” as a misspelled word.

To quickly fix this, you’ll need to open the TextEdit application. To do so, press Command+Space to open Spotlight search, type “TextEdit”, and press Enter. You can also open the Finder, select “Applications,” and double-click “TextEdit.”

Create a new document in TextEdit by clicking the “New Document” button.

Type the misspelling into TextEdit, or copy and paste it from the other application. You can then Ctrl-click or right-click the misspelled word. Click the “Unlearn spelling” option to remove the misspelled word from your personal dictionary.

Close TextEdit afterwards and click “Delete” when you’re asked to save your modified document. You don’t need to save the empty document you created.

This would be more convenient if other Mac applications also provided this feature. It was added to TextEdit in Mac OS X 10.7, and other applications can choose to offer this feature. However, many Mac applications, including Google Chrome, haven’t bothered implementing the “Unlearn Spelling” option.

You’ll need to head to TextEdit if you ever accidentally add a word to your dictionary in many other Mac applications. If you right-click or Ctrl-click a word and don’t see “Unlearn Spelling,” visit TextEdit.

View and Edit Your Custom Word List

Let’s say you accidentally added one or more misspelled words and you aren’t sure exactly what they are. Or, you may have accidentally added words in the past and don’t remember all of them. Unfortunately, Mac OS X doesn’t provide a preferences pane for managing your custom dictionary. However, this information is stored in a text file you can easily edit yourself.

First, you’ll need to find this file. It’s located under the normally hidden Library folder, and is different for each user. To get there, launch a Finder window. Click the “Go” menu and select “Go to Folder.”

Enter the following address and click the “Go” button:

~/Library/Spelling

This will take you to the /Users/USERNAME/Library/Spelling folder.

You’ll see a “LocalDictionary” file here. Open it in TextEdit by Ctrl-clicking or right-clicking it, pointing to “Open With,” and selecting “TextEdit.”

You’ll see a list of words here. If you’ve never added any custom words to your local dictionary, you’ll just see an empty file. Every word appears on its own line.

To remove words from your dictionary, just delete them from the list here. You can delete the entire list to clear your entire dictionary, or delete specific words to remove them. Ensure any words left in the file appear on their own lines.

When you’re done, click the “File” menu and select “Save.” You can then close TextEdit.


Again, this will only work with apps that use the system-wide spell check dictionary, which most Mac applications use. Luckily, if an application uses its own built-in dictionary–like Microsoft’s Office applications do–that application should have built-in options for managing its dictionary in its Preferences screen.

For example, in Word 2016 for Mac, you can head to File > Options > Proofing > Custom Dictionaries and click “Edit Word List” to edit your custom dictionary.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 03/16/16

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