If your operating system is Mac OS X, this document will help you figure out how to set up British English spell checking, and also how to invoke your native British English dictionary and thesaurus.

It's easy to set up your Mac to spell check in British English. This is important to do while editing this site, because British English is required.

OS version information

The following tutorial applies to OS X Lion (10.7), but the fundamentals have been present in the OS X structure for a while. Some very slight modification of this tutorial will help you spell check in British English regardless of your OS X flavour.

What this tutorial covers

This is a tutorial about how to quickly change your global, OS-level spelling settings. These changes will take effect across all Apple-made programs, like Safari and TextEdit. They also seem to take effect within Microsoft Word 2011. However, they have no effect upon non-Apple browsers, like Opera and Firefox. For more help with changing the spell checking behaviour of other browsers, please consult:
Although we provide advice about how to instal a British spell checker in other browsers we strongly discourage Mac editors from using other browsers to edit this site. Safari offers the best all-round British spell checking.

Why change global settings?

Some people might be wary of changing the base spell checking settings for their OS X installation. But there are two very good reasons for doing so: auto-suggestion and auto-correction. When you change your "System Preferences preferences", your British spell checking will become much more accurate, because the system will just do the corrections for you. This is much preferred to merely changing the way an individual program spell checks, because these program-level "fixes" do not properly leverage Apple's auto-correction system.

And don't worry: even though you're changing something that affects your whole system, it's super-easy to change it back to American spell checking when you're finished with your editing session here at Tardis.

Changing your spell check preferences


The Language & Text preference pane. Pull all the way down to Set up

Here's how to make your Mac auto-correct for British English spelling.

  1. Open System Preferences, found either under menu, or in your dock, or in your Applications folder. Lots of ways to get to it.
  2. In the Personal row at the very top, find the Language & Text preference pane and open it
  3. In the Language tab, drag British English to the top of the heap.
  4. In the Text tab, make sure that Correct spelling automatically is checked. Then, use the drop-down at Spelling to move down to Set up. This will then produce a small window where you can choose amongst the various flavours of English. Put British English at the top and only check British English.
  5. Click Done

When you want to go back to US/AUS/CAN English, rinse and repeat as necessary. It's literally that easy. One word of caution though: You cannot skip the step of going to the Set up option. It seems like you'd just be able to select British English under the Spelling drop down, but you need to enable British English under Set up first.

Advanced stuff


The Set-up window: If you want to get fancy, select all the English flavours

After a while of working with multiple versions of English, you're going to get tired of having to go through the steps listed above. So there is a bit of a shortcut that makes the English variants kind of "hot swappable".

  1. Go to the Spelling pull down menu
  2. Select Set up, but this time tick all the various flavours of English you use on a regular basis
  3. Now that you've ticked the various boxes in Set up, the Spelling pull down will control the spell check. When you want British, just go to Spelling > British English. When you want Australian, just go to Spelling > Australian English, and so on. and then use the Spelling pull down to select the flavour you're currently interested in spell checking.

Be careful with this, though. If you have multiple flavours of English selected in Set up, you do not want to select Automatic by language in the Spelling pull down. This will effectively mean that OS X will "pass" any spelling, so long as it's either British, American, Canadian or Australian. And that's not helpful to this wiki. So, if you choose to enable more than one stripe of English, make sure that you go to the Spelling pull down and select British English while you're editing our site.

Changing your dictionary

All OS X installations carry with them a vast array of dictionaries, but you may never have bothered to look under the hood and find them. Changing from your default local English dictionary to the Oxford English Dictionary is a snap.


The Dictionary preference pane: Note how British English is checked and at the top

  1. Go to your Applications folder
  2. Open the app named Dictionary
  3. Type , to open up Preferences
  4. Scan through the list of resources and put them in the order you want. To turn on the British Dictionary and Thesaurus to the exclusion of your defaults, pull the British resources to the top of the list, select them, then deselect your defaults. Now, when you open up Dictionary and search for a word, you'll get the British spelling. Helpfully, if you enter an American spelling, it'll still find the word, but simply tell you that you've used an American spelling.

If you do choose to run two dictionaries simultaneously, make sure you're reading the correct entry. If you've put the British Dictionary above the (American) Dictionary in your preferences, its entries will appear at the top when you do a word search.

Just like with spell checking, you can choose to have multiple resources available to you. Maybe you want to have the Oxford American and the Oxford British dictionaries available. In this case you would just select both. The only problem with doing this, though, is making sure that you know which resource you're reading. If you've chosen to put the British Dictionary at the top of your preference list — and we strongly recommend that you do — then you'll know that the British entries will always be on top of the American ones.

Note that the British English dictionary in Mac OS X is not the "official" dictionary of this wiki. The OS X British dictionary will, for example, tell you that colonise and dematerialise are valid alternates for what appears to be the primary spellings of colonize and dematerialize. Because Mac British spell checking flags colonize as incorrect, however, this wiki deems colonise to be the "practically correct" spelling. For more of these "close calls", please see our spelling cheat card. The technically minded may wish to seek out the full list of words whose spelling we enforce.

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