What language do you type in?

If only English was just one language!

You may not realise that your Microsoft Word documents default to using American (US) English. This causes problems with words such as licence/license, practice/practise, and program/programme. Seeing a grammar-checker wiggly line under any of these may be confusing if you’ve spelt them correctly but the grammar-checker is checking for US English.

Image, Licence plates from various states in the USA.

The type of ‘licence’ you need depends on where you come from. Image by The All-Nite Images / CC BY-SA

For every Word document or template you use, check the language to see which version of English is selected (on the Review tab if you’re using a Windows version of Word, or under Tools on a Mac version). If you’re checking a pre-existing document, highlight all the text before you select the language. You can choose from several English options. Select the one that best suits where you live or the audience you’re writing for. In New Zealand we use UK spelling, but the English (New Zealand) option may include extra country-specific words or spellings that other options don’t.

Then if your grammar-checker puts a wiggly line under ‘practice’, you’ll know it’s because you’ve used the wrong spelling, not because it’s trying to impose American spelling.

Some tricky spellings to watch out for


program/programme
UK and NZ English: use ‘program’ as the noun and the verb for the computer industry; use ‘programme’ for all other sorts of schemes.

US English: use ‘program’ for both noun and verb in any context.

practice/practise
UK and NZ English: ‘practice’ is the noun and ‘practise’ is the verb. Replacing the word with ‘advice’ or ‘advise’ to test it can be helpful as these are pronounced differently — so you can ‘hear’ which one is right.

US English: use ‘practice’ for both noun and verb.

licence/license
UK and NZ English: same as for practice/practise.

US English: use ‘license’ for both noun and verb.

It’s no wonder we get confused!

Find out more about UK and US spelling

Read a fuller explanation by Oxford Dictionaries

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One response to “What language do you type in?”

  1. […] Microsoft Word’s spellchecker. Set the proofreading language to make sure you’re applying the spelling used in your country, then use the ‘Ignore’ and […]

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