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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.

WordWeb

Best-Language-Tools-Not-Just-Writers-Wordweb

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 WordWeb Makes It Easy To Define Words In & Outside Your Web Browser WordWeb Makes It Easy To Define Words In & Outside Your Web Browser Read More 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)

Ditto

Best-Language-Tools-Not-Just-Writers-Ditto

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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 The 3 Best Clipboard Managers For Windows The 3 Best Clipboard Managers For Windows The Windows clipboard can only hold one single item, so whenever you copy something else, the previous item will be discarded. If you didn't mean to lose what you had copied earlier that can be... Read More .

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)

tinySpell

Best-Language-Tools-Not-Just-Writers-tinySpell

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 Check Your Spellings On The Fly With TinySpell (Windows) Check Your Spellings On The Fly With TinySpell (Windows) Read More .

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)

PhraseExpress

Best-Language-Tools-Not-Just-Writers-PhraseExpress-GIF

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 PhraseExpress - A Great Alternative Text Replacement Tool PhraseExpress - A Great Alternative Text Replacement Tool Read More 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 7 Awesome Uses For PhraseExpress Text Expander 7 Awesome Uses For PhraseExpress Text Expander In my never-ending quest to find new ways to automate my activities in front of the keyboard, and to shave precious seconds off of my work schedule, I always appreciate new and creative technologies that... Read More .

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 Improve Your English With New And Improved Definitions On Google Search [Updates] Improve Your English With New And Improved Definitions On Google Search [Updates] If Google Search has been standing in as your online dictionary of choice, then the search box will now take you deeper into a word. The latest update gives you sample sentences, synonyms, origin, and... Read More . So we’re curious, how do you build your vocabulary and become better at English?

Image credit: Hisks

  1. Robert K
    March 28, 2014 at 2:24 am

    I'm glad you mentioned Ditto!

    I've been using it since (I believe) v1.1 or v1.2, which if I remember correctly, was either for DOS or Win 95. I've tried out practically EVERY clipboard monitor out there for Windows, just to see if they offer any innovative features that I like.

    However, I always come back to using Ditto, NOT just because it has a plethora of features, but because it just simply works: The UI is not too simple, but also not so complicated as to where "technophobes" aren't able to learn how to use it (I've taught by tech-illiterate mother how to use Ditto like a pro!).

    Also, I've never once in the 20 or so years I've used Ditto come across any broken features in the software (aside from the occasional bug, which is expected, considering I'm always using the latest beta).

    Basically, Ditto is probably THE most well-programmed, consistent, feature-rich, and best overall functioning piece of software that I've EVER used!

    A word of note, however, is that the developer has been working on the latest version for 2-3 years now, with the only new releases being beta versions. So, if you want to use the newest release—which isn't even necessary, as the latest "stable" release still works perfectly fine—you'll have to put up with a beta version...

    Nevertheless, as I said earlier, I've ALWAYS used his beta versions, and honestly, they function BETTER than the stable releases of a lot of other software, so you don't worry about having issues (the same could be said for the beta versions of "7-Zip", which have been in development for even LONGER than that of Ditto's releases).

  2. Dale
    March 27, 2014 at 4:33 pm

    AsuType (www.asutype.com) spelling correction while you type in any Windows application, plus word and phrase expansion. Pretty good.

  3. Caroline W
    March 27, 2014 at 5:30 am

    I am a very long time user of WordWeb, I couldn't do without it to be honest. I am a writer so finding alternate words to avoid repetition is essential and WordWeb is invaluable with its Synonym section.

    TinySpell sounds a good little program but, I think I would quickly become annoyed by its beeps in the notification area; it would drive me nuts if I'm honest!

    But, WordWeb, great program especially as it's free! I don't know how significant the upgrade to its Pro version would be, for me, what it gives is plenty for my needs :)

  4. Kcmartz
    March 26, 2014 at 10:47 pm

    I use PhraseExpander myself, it is commercial, but works better than PhraseExpress, so far.

    • Mihir Patkar
      March 27, 2014 at 4:54 am

      That's interesting. What are the differences? What makes you say it's better?

      Not defending PhraseExpress here, I just want to know more about PhraseExpander, we might review it then :)

    • kcmartz
      March 27, 2014 at 5:12 am

      The interface has 3 panels, a left (overview of categories, groups, subgroups, and phrases), a middle (list of phrases), right side where you create/edit the phrases. http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2920/13440540043_178fc2d7c6_o.png

      It includes plain text, RTF, has macros (like a prompt for text input).
      It also has automatic date/time input, expression calculations, Automation (opening websites/programs, composing emails, activating windows, waiting for X time, send keystrokes (like Ctrl+B, etc), positioning a cursor in a specific position).

      Shortcuts (phraseexpress does have that too), inserting one phrase into another phrase, popups while typing: http://www.phraseexpander.com/images/typing-short.gif, phrase searching: http://www.phraseexpander.com/images/suggestions-with-search.png, hotkeys (like Ctrl+3, for example -- in addition to the phrases), website searching (goog > google search box > type term > opens in new tab -- From any application), Google Drive/Dropbox sync, stats (on how much time you saved).

      Enjoy!

  5. Scott B
    March 26, 2014 at 10:29 pm

    I use WordWeb and yes, it is great. Also have ClipTrap for a clipboard monitor. But don't think it's got the features of Ditto, so might be worth a look.

    • Mihir Patkar
      March 27, 2014 at 4:55 am

      I've used ClipTrap too. I did an article a while back comparing various clipboard managers. Ditto is my favourite because it's got a whole bunch of features under the hood, but on top, it's still a simple clipboard manager.

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