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I've always thought a spelling checker is a tool that checks spelling. I know a growing number of people say spell checker, but I've always considered that slang. Recently I did a search for the term and saw that many professionally-edited outlets use the shorter version. Has the shorter term become acceptable in formal writing?

Does it generalize to the verb form as well?

  1. I need to spell check my document.
  2. I need to check the spelling in my document.
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3 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Spellcheck and spellchecker are both in OED.

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I've usually seen it used in combination form: spellchecker. The verb is spellcheck and it conjugates the same way check does. It's also used as spell checker, and I guess you can take your pick.

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I always use spelling checker; a spell checker is something Harry Potter needs. –  Marthaª Feb 10 '11 at 1:37
@Martha: But I bet J. K. Rowling used a spellchecker! :) –  Robusto Feb 10 '11 at 1:42
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On the NOAD reports spelling checker, but it simply describes it as another term for spell-checker; spell checker is reported in the description of spell-checker as possible variant.

To spell-check (or to spell check) means to check the spelling of a text using a spell-checker; the meaning of spell-checker is reported to be a computer program that checks the spelling of words in files of text, typically by comparison with a stored list of words.

To check the spelling would have a more generic meaning that to spell check, as the latter verb implicates the use of a computer program. It is possible that, as nowadays the computer is used also as text editor, to spell check is used even when the operation has not be done with a computer (e.g., the professor has spell-checked my essay).

Searching for [check] the spelling and [spellcheck] on the Corpus of Contemporary American ([check] matches check, checks, checked) I get the following data (the values are the frequencies per million; the images can also be seen here, and here):

usage by context usage per year

The data evidences that spellcheck is used more frequently in the last 10 years.

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The image isn't showing up... –  Marthaª Feb 10 '11 at 15:04
That's strange: I see it. Probably it depends from its size; I will try with a smaller image. –  kiamlaluno Feb 10 '11 at 15:08
I see the images now. –  Marthaª Feb 10 '11 at 19:36
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