You don’t need to be a writer to care about the English language. If you type frequently and at length, there are some cool apps on Windows that will help you make better use of English. If you don’t “typ lyk dis” and hate reading that, you need these tools.
I swear by this software and it’s among the first things I install on any Windows PC. WordWeb is a dead simple dictionary lookup app that sits quietly in your system tray till you ask a definition. You can set a hotkey to bring it up as well as a mouse-click shortcut — I use a combination of both: Alt+W for hotkey and Alt+Middle-Click for mouse. When you need to look up any word, highlight it and hit the shortcut.
Apart from definitions, WordWeb also gives other word references: synonyms, antonyms, types of, types, and parts of. My favourite, though, is “Nearest”, which shows you what precedes and succeeds the word you looked up in the dictionary. It’s great to see how else a word might be used and for horrible puns.
Download: WordWeb for Windows (Free)
When you are playing around with words or coming up with a long reply in a forum, you will often need to copy-paste chunks of text from one place to another. The tool I’d recommend for this is Ditto, one of the three best clipboard managers for Windows.
At its simplest, this is a clipboard manager which keeps a history of all the text you have copied. But underneath that lies a powerful set of features. The best bit is that it can save clips for later and group them together, which means you have a ready set of texts to turn to in the future. Plus, it syncs across Windows PCs so you can use the same clips at home and work. And the one excellent feature it has which most others don’t is a strong search function which will look up anything you have saved in the 999 entries it allows.
Like WordWeb, I’d suggest using hotkeys to paste the last or last few items you have copied. I use Ctrl+Alt+(number) to cycle the clipboard by recency, but I still adhere to Ctrl+V for the most recent item. I found that it’s best for muscle-memory since I shift between different computers and operating systems often.
Download: Ditto for Windows (Free)
You know how Microsoft Word (and many other word processors) will highlight a misspelt word by giving it a squiggly red underline? Well, if you want a similar feature in any app you are writing, then tinySpell is the way to go. It’s a lightweight program that checks spellings on the fly.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t offer the option to have that red underline. Instead, whenever you make a mistake, tinySpell will issue a beep and the system tray icon will turn yellow. When it beeps, hit the Left-Shift button to see suggestions for the misspelt word, highlighted at the top of the window or above the word. In the dropdown list, you will find alternative spelling suggestions that you can use. It’s simple, it’s quick and it gets the job done. Although be warned, the beeps can take some getting used to at first!
And here’s a funny fact: tinySpell does not recognize its own name as a valid word so it’ll beep every time you want to tell someone about this awesome tool you found! (Of course, you can add it to the dictionary the first time you get the prompt.)
Download: tinySpell for Windows (Free)
Chances are, there are some phrases or long words you type often, like your home address or a signature sign-off in emails. The best way to save time on this is with a text expander tool, and PhraseExpress is the best text replacement program out there.
For power users, it’s recommended to take some time to set up your common phrases in PhraseExpress before you start using it. But I type as much as anyone else and I found that I preferred to add a text expansion shortcut to PhraseExpress only when I was tired of typing a chunk of text over and over. For example, I need to give out my address quite often, so I set it up so that “adrs” auto-expands to my full address now. But I also type “cool, thanks!” as a phrase very often and I haven’t felt the need to shorten that. The bottom line is that you should use PhraseExpress the way it makes sense for you — there’s no reason to shorten every single word or phrase you use often. Give it a whirl, there are some awesome uses for PhraseExpress.
Download: PhraseExpress for Windows (Free)
Share Your Language Tricks
Apart from these tools, there are some neat ways to improve your language skills, like the new definitions on Google Search. So we’re curious, how do you build your vocabulary and become better at English?
Image credit: Hisks