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created 2001 · complexity basic · author Brian Medley · version 7.0

This tip explains how to use the dictionary completion facilities provided by Vim. This is useful when using Vim to type code or text such as an email.

Dictionary completion[]

Dictionary completion is one of many search facilities provided by Insert mode completion. It allows the user to get a list of keywords, based off of the current word at the cursor. This is useful if you are typing a long word (e.g. "acknowledgeable") and don't want to finish typing or don't remember the spelling.

To start, we must first tell Vim where our dictionary is located. This is done via the 'dictionary' option. Below is an example. Your location may vary. See :help 'dictionary' for hints as to where you should look.

:set dictionary?
:set dictionary+=/usr/share/dict/words

To use the list of words in a dictionary we have to enter insert mode completion. This is done by hitting Ctrl-X while in insert mode. Next, you have to specify what you want to complete. For dictionaries use Ctrl-K. Once in this mode the keys Ctrl-N and Ctrl-P will cycle through the matches. So, to complete the word "acknowledgeable", type the following in insert mode:


It can be cumbersome to type Ctrl-X Ctrl-K for many different completions so Vim provides a shortcut. While in insert mode Ctrl-N and Ctrl-P will pull completion results from multiple sources. This set is defined by the 'complete' option and by default dictionary completion is not enabled. Add 'k' to the list to enable dictionary completion:

:set complete+=k

Now, while in insert mode we can type the following to complete our example:


This shortcut may not save much typing but it is easier to type with less thinking about which control keys should be pressed.

You may not want Ctrl-N and Ctrl-P to always select words from your dictionaries because there would be too many words to choose from. In that case, you might want to map a function key, for example:

:inoremap <F12> <C-X><C-K>

With this mapping, when in insert mode, press F12 to complete the current word from your dictionaries. Press Ctrl-N for the next word or Ctrl-P for the previous word.

Filetype-specific dictionaries[]

You can also use filetype-specific dictionaries. If the user would like to automatically load a word file from their ~/.vim/words/ directory for the particular filetype they are working on, the following line can be inserted into the .vimrc file:

au FileType * execute 'setlocal dict+=~/.vim/words/'.&filetype.'.txt'

This allows you to create ~/.vim/words/tex.txt for inserting jargon while composing a thesis in latex or ~/.vim/words/r.txt for statistics jargon in R.

Similar use cases[]

Completion for Java/Perl/php/etc keywords[]

Instead of a dictionary, see Completion using a syntax file.

Completion for tags[]

Tag files can be also searched for completion by adding "]" or "t" (the default) to your "complete" setting.

set complete+=t

Invoke completion with Ctrl-N.



Most distributions of Linux come with wordlists, but Windows does not. You can find word lists from the scowl archives:

Great tip so far, but how can I get the dictionary to understand compound words? e.g. 'Doctors of philosophy'? How does one complete those in without completion cut off after 'doctors'?