Change the dictionary in Scrivener

Scrivener for Windows has a number of writing tools available from the Tools menu, including options to look up selected words in a number of online references (dictionary, thesaurus, etc). These tools aren’t user definable, but if you are prepared to tinker a little under the hood there is a way to change these to something you use more regularly.

The steps below will switch the Dictionary.com and Thesaurus.com references to enable you to look up words in the Collins online dictionary and thesaurus instead (in particular, the American English versions).

1) Download the file Scrivener_en.qm from this link (you’ll need to unzip it), and save it to your hard drive.
2) Copy the file to the translations folder of your Scrivener installation (for example on my computer it’s C:\Program Files (x86)\Scrivener\translations\). Depending on the version of Scrivener you are running, you may already have a file called Scrivener_en.qm in that directory. It’s safe to overwrite it, but if you are extra cautious you could always make a backup first. The easiest way to do this is simply rename the original file Scrivener_en(BAK).qm, and then rename it back should you need to restore it at any point.
3) Launch Scrivener.
4) Go to Tools > Options in the menu system (or just press F12).
5) In the General tab of the Options dialog, change the Language to English.
6) Click OK in the information dialog that pops up.
7) Close and then relaunch Scrivener.

I have tested this modified file with Scrivener for Windows version 1.6.1 (the latest official release) as well as version 1.7.0.2 (the current beta). It should continue to work with future versions of WinScriv (unless the team at LitNLat make their own modifications to this part of the program), although you will need to reinstall the above linked file each time you upgrade.

As always, any thoughts, questions and enthusiastic praise should go in the comments section below.

10 thoughts on “Change the dictionary in Scrivener

  1. martaze

    WOOHOO! Works like a dream. No more having to pull up a browser and searching for my bookmark.
    Thank you Sir Galahad! :) :) :)

    1. Kieran

      Cool, thanks. Is there a link to a UK dictionary?

      And I still can’t figure out how to change the spell check language to UK English, there is only one choice of english dictionary in Scrivener, and that is the US version. Have you any idea about how to fix this?

      1. pigfender Post author

        Hi Kieran,

        Just for you, I’ve created a version of the file that will update the default links in writing tools to take you to the Collins British English Dictionary and their Worldwide English Thesaurus (they only have two options, American or Worldwide). Follow the same instructions as above, but use the file linked here instead.

        This also gives me the opportunity to confirm that these files still work with version 1.7.3 (the latest Windows release as I type this), although just to remind you, you’ll may need to download the above linked file when you upgrade your version of Scrivener, depending on what’s included in the update and on your method of installation.

        To change your in-Scrivener dictionary to British English:
        – Open the Options dialogue (Tools > Options, or just press F12)
        – On the left hand pane, select ‘Corrections’
        – The third entry names your current dictionary. I’m guessing yours says ‘English (United States)’
        – To the right of that are two buttons: ‘Select…’ and ‘Download…’
        – Press ‘Select…’ to bring up a list of the dictionaries that are already on your system. If ‘English (United Kingdom)’ is there then select that, click ‘Ok’ and then when you get back to the Options dialogue click ‘Apply’ and then ‘Ok’.
        – If ‘English (United Kingdom)’ wasn’t in that list then just click ‘Ok’ to come out of the selection window and back into the main Options dialogue. This time, click ‘Download…’
        – Scroll down to find ‘English (United Kingdom)’, click to select it and then click ‘Download’. A warning message will pop up to let you know that you’ll need to restart Scrivener to use the new dictionary. Click ‘Ok’ to continue, and you’ll see a progress bar while the new file downloads.
        – When it’s finished, you’ll still be in the Download window. Click ‘Close’ to finish downloading, and then ‘Ok’ to exit the Options Dialogue.
        – Close down Scrivener (File > Exit) and then relaunch the application. This gives the programme chance to realise there’s another dictionary it can use.
        – Reopen the Options dialogue (Tools > Options, or just press F12), and once again load the Corrections window from the list on the left.
        – Click the ‘Select…’ button next to the name of your current dictionary. This time your newly downloaded ‘English (United Kingdom)’ dictionary will be there. Select that, click ‘Ok’ and then when you get back to the Options dialogue click ‘Apply’ and then ‘Ok’.
        – Enjoy your new dictionary!

  2. martaze

    I saved a backup of the file I downloaded a few months, and can confirm it works in 1.7.3 WOOHOO!

  3. John Elliott

    Anyone know how to do this for MAC? Or If there is a simple way to add words to the dictionary?

    1. pigfender Post author

      The Mac version treats spell checking in a different way to the Windows version.
      First a summary of the Windows spell-check options:
      a) Built in spell-check that does all the normal ‘red squiggly line’ type stuff as you type. You can add words or change the dictionary entirely to a different language using the in-program preferences.
      b) An option in the context (aka right-click) menu to send the selected word to an external website lookup (such as dictionary.com).
      c) A similar option via the context menu to send any highlighted word to other external websites (such as google or wikipedia).

      For the Mac, you have two basic options, equivalent to options (a) and (c) above.
      The option (a) in-line spellcheck is done via the MacOS wide text engine (which allows cool things like using a trackpad to three finger tap on words to bring up dictionary, thesaurus and encyclopaedic entries). To change the language you need to load the Dictionary App separately and go to the preferences of that App instead of the ones in Scrivener. You can add words as you go along in the normal way within Scrivener simply by right-clicking (or two finger tapping on a trackpad if you have that enabled) and selecting ‘Learn Spelling’
      On the Mac, option c) exists by using the context menu and then selecting ‘Writing Tools’. You cannot change the list of websites that you can send this to, although it should be noted that you can’t officially do that on the Windows version either. The methods discussed in the article above take advantage of the way the QT framework (which LitNLat used to programme Scrivener for Windows) treats UI translations to change both what you read in the menu and the destination website for your query.

  4. Jane W

    This is really ingenious and helpful! And, I wonder if you’d be willing to share how you did it, since I’d like to add at least one more site to the Writing Tools. But I tried and tried, without being able to figure out what was going on from comparing (in a hex editor) your new version with the original file. Thank you!

    1. martaze

      Yes, Pigfender.
      I love the adjusted menu I got from you but — like Jane — like to tinker with the code. If it can be done in an html type editor
      I can sign any agreement that you are not liable, if that is a concern. If I screw up, I can reinstall the program. I’m still on WIN XP–which will only be pried from my cold dead fingers

      1. pigfender Post author

        Hey Jane and Marta. Unfortunately it’s a bit more complicated than that. Firstly, you need to use a special program called Linguist that comes as part of the Qt developer framework. Secondly, you’ll need access to a special file to open in that program (Linguist doesn’t edit the files that you see in the application directory, it edits a different type of file and the exports something that can be used by the Scrivener app).
        I can’t make that input file available, but if you email support at Literature and Latte they *might* let you have a version for personal use.

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