SPELL(1) MidnightBSD General Commands Manual SPELL(1)


spell — find spelling errors


spell [−biltvx] [−d list] [−h spellhist] [−m s] [−s stop] [+extra_list] [file ...]


spell collects words from the named documents and looks them up in a spelling list. Words that neither occur among nor are derivable (by applying certain inflections, prefixes or suffixes) from words in the spelling list are printed on the standard output.

If no files are named, words are collected from the standard input. spell ignores most troff(1), tbl(1), eqn(1), and pic(1) constructions. Copies of all output may be accumulated in the history file, if one is specified.

By default, spell (like deroff(1)) follows chains of included files (

‘‘.so’’ and ‘‘.nx’’ commands )).

The default spelling list is based on Webster’s Second International dictionary and should be fairly complete. Words that appear in the ‘‘stop list’’ are immediately flagged as misspellings, regardless of whether or not they exist in one of the word lists. This helps filter out misspellings (e.g. thier=thy−y+ier) that would otherwise pass. Additionally, the british file is also used as a stop list unless the −b option is specified.

Site administrators may add words to the local word list, /usr/local/share/dict/words or the local stop list, /usr/local/share/dict/stop.

All word (and stop) lists must be sorted in lexicographical order with case folded. The simplest way to achieve this is to use ‘‘sort -df’’. If the word files are incorrectly sorted, spell will not be able to operate correctly.

The options are as follows:


Check British spelling. Besides preferring centre, colour, speciality, travelled, etc., this option insists upon −ise in words like standardise, Fowler and the OED to the contrary notwithstanding. In this mode, American variants of words are added to the stop list.

−d word_list

Use the specified word list instead of the default system word list. The word list must be sorted as specified above.

−h spellhist

Store misspelled words in the specified history file. The output of who -m is appended to the history file after the list of misspelled words.


Instruct deroff(1) to ignore ‘‘.so’’ and ‘‘.nx’’ commands.


Use delatex instead of deroff(1) if it is present on the system.


Enable support for common troff(1) macro packages; this option is passed verbatim to deroff(1). Refer to the −-m description in deroff(1) for details.

−s stop_list

Use the specified stop list instead of the default system stop list. The stop list must be sorted as specified above.


Use detex instead of deroff(1) if it is present on the system.


Print all words not literally in the spelling list in addition to plausible derivations from spelling list words.


Print every plausible stem, prefixed with ‘=’.


Use extra_list in addition to the default word list. The extra word list must be sorted as specified above.


Default spelling list


American spelling of certain words


British spelling of certain words


Default stop list.


Local spelling list (optional)


Local stop list (optional)


Binary executed by the shell script /usr/bin/spell.


deroff(1), look(1), sed(1), sort(1), tee(1), troff(1)


The spell command appeared in Version 6 AT&T UNIX.

Unlike historic versions, the NetBSD spell command does not use hashed word files. Instead, it uses lexicographically sorted files and the same technique as look(1).


The spelling list lacks many technical terms; new installations will probably wish to monitor the output for several months to gather local additions.

British spelling was done by an American.

In −x mode it would be nicer if the stems were grouped with the appropriate word.

MidnightBSD 0.3 April 18, 1994 MidnightBSD 0.3