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How to Use Spell Check on your Linux Terminal

How to Use Spell Check on your Linux Terminal

Did you know you can use the terminal to check the spelling of a passage you’ve written?

The terminal has a lot of utility commands, but most people are unaware of many of them.

I’ve seen people using Microsoft Word or Google to check the spelling of a word. But this utility command is a handy alternative tool for developers to check their spelling. The fact that it comes pre-installed with the terminal is an added advantage.

How to Use the Linux Spell Check Command

ispell and aspell are the 2 commands you can use to check the spelling of a word. Out of these 2, ispell is the old spellchecker from GNU which has a limited capability to read different kinds of encoded files.

aspell is an interactive spell checker which checks the spelling via standard input or by reading through the file. It checks spelling on UTF-8 encoded files. It can read and check the spelling on markdown files, too.

aspell has a lot of options. Running --help with the command shows the list of all the available options.

aspell --help
Terminal command to verify if aspell installed
aspell --help command output

If you encounter errors while running the above command, it means that you don’t have it installed. Run the following command to install aspell in your machine:

sudo apt install aspell
Terminal command to install aspell

How to Check the Spelling of Words One-by-one Interactively?

Pass the -a flag with the aspell command to open it in interactive mode.

aspell -a
Terminal command to check spelling interactively
aspell -a command to open aspell in interactive mode

In this mode, you can enter the words with possible incorrect spelling one by one and you will get a list of words with the correct spelling that are the closest to the entered word.

Here’s an example screenshot:

Correct word suggestions from aspell command

From the above screenshot, you can see that aspell suggests multiple words for each incorrectly-spelled word I entered.

The close alternatives for the word sampee are sample, simper, sampler. Similarly, you can see the suggestions for other words too (waier, calendrr, moble, bqttle).

This can be quite handy for developers since they can quickly switch to the terminal and find the correct spelling of a word during their development. The fact that it does not require the internet is an added advantage.

How to Check the Spelling of Words from a File

Using the terminal to check the spelling of words from a file is the best alternative approach if you don’t have internet access. Grammarly and Google Docs will best assist you with a good internet connection.

You can write the passage in a text file and pass the file path as an argument to the -c flag in the aspell command. This accepts an HTML or Markdown file too.

aspell -c <filename>
Terminal command to check spelling by reading a file

I’ve created a file named computer.txt and added the below content:

Content of computer.txt file

I’ve made some spelling mistakes in the middle. You might be able to spot them easily. Some of them are macine instead of machine, intrenet instead of internet, etc.

Let’s ask aspell to find the spelling mistakes in this passage.

aspell -c computer.txt
Terminal command to check spelling on computer.txt file

Once you run the above command, you’ll be shown a screen similar to the following screenshot:

aspell command to find spelling mistakes in a file

This means that aspell has figured out some spelling mistakes in our passage. It will highlight the misspelled words one-by-one with the appropriate alternative correctly spelled words at the bottom.

There will be 10 options shown with a row number. You can choose the correctly spelled word by entering the corresponding row number.

For example, in the above screenshot, the word “macine” is highlighted and the right replacement for this misspelled word is “machine”, which is the 1st option. So, I press 1.

Immediately after I press 1, the correction was made and aspell moves to the next misspelled word.

aspell command corrects and moves to the next misspelled word in the file

In addition to the 10 options, aspell shows 8 different options. You can choose one of the them if you did not find the right word from the above 10 alternate options.

Let’s understand each option you can use with aspell:

Character Action Description
i Ignore Ignore this occurrence and move on to next misspelled word
r Replace Replace this word by manually entering a new word
a Add Add this word to the dictionary
b Abort Abort this operation (The changes you applied will not be saved)
I Ignore all Ignore all occurrences of this word
R Replace all Replace all occurrences of this word by manually entering a new word
l Add Lower Add the word to the dictionary
x Exit Exit the operation (The changes you applied will be saved)

The above table describes the action for each character in the aspell check command.

Once you’re done with correcting the spelling of all the misspelled words, the file will be automatically saved by aspell.

In addition to that, a new file will be created with the name <existing_file_name>.bak, which is a backup of the same file without applying spell check.

How to Ignore Creating a New File While Correcting Spelling in a File

This is quite simple and can be easily achieved by passing a flag with the aspell command. The flag is --dont-backup.

Let’s look at an example command:

aspell check --dont-backup computer.txt
Terminal command to spell check without creating a backup file by passing --dont-backup flag
Ignore creating a backup file by passing --dont-backup flag

From the above screenshot, you can see that I’ve removed the existing computer.txt.bak file and run the spell check by passing the --dont-backup flag. No more .bak file has been created after I complete the spell check.

You may also notice one more change from the previous example and the above command. That is check and -c. In my previous command, I used -c, but in the above command, I used check to pass the file name.

You can either use -c or check to pass the file name. Both of them do the same job.

Can You Check the Spelling on Other Files?

Absolutely yes. aspell checks for spelling by reading Markdown and HTML files, too. You have to pass the mode of the file as a separate argument ( --mode ).

Here’s the syntax,

aspell check --mode=<mode_type> file_name
Terminal command to do spell check on different file types like markdown, html, etc. 

The supported modes are none, url, email, markdown, html, tex, texinfo, and nroff.

Let’s see a quick example of fixing the spelling mistakes on a markdown file.

aspell check --dont-backup --mode=markdown
Terminal command to spell check on a Markdown file
Running aspell with the markdown file

It opened a similar interface, but it understood the markdown format and highlighted only the misspelled word.

I want to bring one important item to your attention. You can find a misspelled word (blok) in the middle of the backtick (“` … “`) block. The content inside this block will not be evaluated by the aspell command. So, you’ll not be able to spot and correct the misspelled words inside the block.

Similarly, you can evaluate the spelling in the HTML files by changing the mode to html.


In this article, you have learned to check spelling using your Linux Terminal. I hope you enjoy reading it.

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