Working in different languages

Hi there.
First, I love Scrivener. Well done! It’s a remarkably useful application.
As for the request, I write on Philosophy. More often than not, I need to quote authors in different languages. I would like to be able to define the language of a certain passage/text (as you can do in Word or Pages). I know that Scrivener allows the user to set the spell-checker to check the spelling in different languages, but as many words are homographs (same spelling, though different meanings), the solution is not perfect: the correct spelling could well be correct e.g. in italian, but not in Spanish.
If the word is not in the dictionary, I would like to be able to add the language of the word when Scrivener learns a spell, so it appears e.g. in Spanish rather in the custom dictionary.


Many thanks for the kind words!

Although this is certainly a good and understandable request, I’m afraid I’m limited by the OS X text system with regard to spelling and languages. As you know, both Pages and Word have whole teams working on them, whereas with Scrivener I’m the sole coder. As such, I have to rely on certain built-in aspects of Cocoa and OS X and don’t have the resources to create my own. Thus Scrivener’s text system is based on the OS X text system which is also used in TextEdit and many other programs, and has to use the system dictionaries and spell-checkers, and relies on the way Apple have set it up to work with different languages. There’s nothing in the OS X text system to my knowledge that would allow me to make it so that one piece of text can have multiple languages associated with it, as the spelling dictionaries work on a whole document basis. Apple built a completely custom text engine for Pages, rather than use the one provided with OS X.

Thanks again and all the best,

Keith, have you had a word with Martin at Nisus about this, as NW has this ability … I know they’ve been able/have the workforce to hack into the text-engine/RTF file system to an extent that you don’t as a sole developer, but he might have ideas he’d be willing to pass on.


Martin has already been incredibly generous with his time and help, and I wouldn’t feel right asking other developers to share secrets with me that set their applications above others. Nisus has been around for many years, and although it is based on the same text system, it is almost completely customised - they use a massively enhanced typographer/layout system, for instance. Besides, the current features for Scriv 2.0 are taking up all my time right now so enhancements like this one are unfortunately out of the question for now, although I’ll be happy to take another look at the possibilities next year sometime.


Had you thought of licensing (say) Nisus text engine? Or for that matter one of the others that are around. I appreciate it might increase the price of Scriv but you would probably increase your installed base.

Something only you can judge and it may be that the resrtictions that came with any licensing deal would not be worth the hassle.

Nisus don’t have a licensing deal and nor does any other text engine used on the Mac. It’s either use what’s there, or write your own.

In Snow Leopard (not sure if it’s in earlier versions) you can go to System Preferences then to Language & Text > Text > Spelling and change that to Automatic by Language. (hope that was clear enough)

I don’t know if that’s what you are looking for, but I can type in English and Spanish and not get the red lines indicating misspelled words.

I’m only able to look up words in an English dictionary though. I have no idea how to install extra dictionaries.

It is possible to get Spanish, and many other dictionaries working with Apple’s program. There is a very detailed blog post here, which mind you, requires Leopard or greater to work. I’ve never tried it myself as the New Oxford American is fine enough for me, but given the poster’s screenshot with dozens of language dictionaries available, I’d imagine you can get nearly anything working, including translation dictionaries.

It is very simple to add dictionaries to the under Snow Leopard but to my knowledge these dictionaries are NOT used for spell checking!

It is like the OP wrote: In the system settings you can set orthography to automatic detection which results in no red lines under a word that is in any of the set dictionaries. Like, I write “sensibel” which is correct in a German sentence, but misspelled in an English one.

Mac OS X allows you to change keyboard layouts by a key stroke but not languages alone. Which would be very helpful, the same as having the language as a possible paragraph setting.

PS: You can find more dictionaries here (German page):

That’s a good point, even with the English dictionaries, there seem to be more words in the dictionary application than are recognised by the spellchecking system.

Since the dictionary app is open even for online sources like Wikipedia (or better: Wikipedias, as you can include W.s in lots of languages) the spellchecker would break down or at least get extremely slowed down if it had to check all of the possible sources.

So it does make sense that the spellchecker is a completely different thing.

Actually, you can add new dictionaries for spelling too, because Snow Leopard introduced the ability to read OpenOffice dictionaries for spell-checking - I wrote how to do this on our wiki a few months back: … Dictionary

All the best,

So, if I understand correctly, there is no way it could become possible for us to select more than one dictionaries to work with the spell-checker at the same time?
From what I understand, my problem is a little different than what has been exposed above.
As I do translation work, I also often need to have two languages appear in the same text or scrivener section at the same time. The problem is, if I want to use the correction tool, I have to select a dictionary in either one of the languages, and therefore everything written in the other language will be marked as incorrect and underlined in red (quite annoying).
So it would be great if we could select more than one dictionaries to work with the correction tool at the same time, since desactivating the spell-checker in order to avoid that is an unsatisfying solution.
Add an “automatically recognize the language” option could be another solution I guess, but I think it would be much less efficient and customizable than the possibility to simply select more than one dictionaries.
Sorry for being clueless about the technical aspects of it all.
That said, thank you for your great work.

As noted further up in the thread, the organisation you need to be contacting about the Mac’s spelling engine is Apple. We do not provide any features above and beyond what is provided by the text engine (and it is not possible to do so). They do have an automatic detection feature (accessed in the spelling and grammar panel off of the Edit menu), and that may work out for you, but we’ve had mixed feedback on how well it works.

@Julie: if you look, the discussion up to your post, and Amber’s response to you, is entirely on what is possible on the Mac platform. Windows may — I have no knowledge here — present other possibilities, so I hope for your sake someone from the Windows side will pick this up.

@Lit&Lat-Webmaster: Since Scrivener has now been available on three platforms for some time, would it not be a good idea for forum members to be required to state which platform(s) they are using? I still find myself niggled from time to time by posts where the poster has made no reference to their platform and it is difficult to infer from the text of the post. At least in this thread the OP mentions Pages; had that not been the case, and had this thread been started recently, it would not have been possible to know which platform was in question.

WARNING! OLD CURMUDGEON’S RANT! If so-called educational experts hadn’t outlawed the teaching of spelling as being detrimental to a child’s development — starting in the 70s in the UK — there wouldn’t be such dependence on spelling checkers, with their inability to differentiate between homophones. :smiling_imp: :smiling_imp: