How to get Siri to spell a word for you

Everyone I know and everyone you know has uttered a sentence that begins with the following four words:

"How do you spell...?"

Don't deny it—you've heard it in your own voice at some time or another. You've heard it from your college roommate. You've heard it from friends and relatives. If you're a parent, you've heard it from your kids. And after a certain amount of time of growing tired of hearing it, you've undoubtedly responded on at least one occasion: "Look it up!".

A fool's errand, certainly. How is anyone supposed to look up a word in the dictionary to find out how it's spelled if they don't know how to spell it to begin with?

How nice is it that we can replace the plague upon humanity that is "How do you spell..." with this:

"Siri, how do you spell...."

It's really that simple

Yes, in addition to its other capabilities and tricks, Siri can spell words for you... just like a human being competing in a spelling bee.

Activate Siri however you like (double-pressing the Home button or invoking "Hey Siri...") and ask Siri to spell the word "airplane", and you'll hear, "Airplane...A-I-R-P-L-A-N-E". On-screen, you'll see the dictionary entry, complete with the phonetic pronunciation and the definition.

Fun with Siri

That takes care of the garden-variety spelling questions. Let's step it up a level.

What if you ask Siri how to spell a word that is a homonym, such as tail?

In this case, Siri shows—and spells out—four possibilities. Tap one of them and Siri will spell it out again and provide the definition. If this isn't the word you want, there is, sadly, no back button to make another choice. But if you touch Tap to Edit, you can change the word, pick from another suggested option, or simply ask Siri again.

Will it work with proper names? Yep.

What about words that are pronounced differently due to local custom? Whether it's pronounced iAR-ken-saw or Ar-CAN-zis, or Miz-ZER-ee or Muh-ZUR-uh, you get these:

How about a word that is commonly mispronounced for other reasons? When I asked Siri how to spell "nuclear" (as in newk-ya-ler), much to my surprise, Siri pronounced the word correctly back to me, and gave me the result below. Ditto when I asked Siri to spell "nuclear" (as in new-clee-er). Cool.

What about words that many of us know how to spell but commonly confuse? Here are two of my personal favorites:

These requests lack context—and Siri is not a grammarian so it can't tell you if you're using the right word—but at least we have some options to follow.

What about foreign words? If they are commonly used in the English language, you might get lucky, though sometimes Siri is will provide a text response that actually spells out the word and offers to shuffle you off to Wolfram Alpha's website:

If you're trying to spell a not-so-common word in a foreign language, you'll need to change the settings for Siri to speak in that language, and change your device's general settings to use that language.

Lastly, what about using Type to Siri for this? Think about it for a second and you'll realize it's no help; if you can't spell it, you can't type it. Or ask just Siri:

Your thoughts?

Did you know you could ask Siri to spell a word for you? Have you stumped Siri yet? Let us know about your experience in the comments below.

Mike Matthews

Mike Matthews is a writer at He has used Apple products all the way back to the Apple II+. He appreciates no longer having to launch apps by loading them from a cassette tape recorder.