I'm using flyspell mode with aspell under the hood. Emacs 27.1 installed using Homebrew on macOS Mojave. This behavior happens both with my normal configuration as well as emacs -Q.

I looked through M-x customize as carefully as I could in the flyspell and ispell sections, but did not find anything useful.

When I right-click on a misspelled word, I get way more suggestions than I want:

screenshot of Emacs with giant menu of spelling suggestions

I want maybe a dozen suggestions.

M-x ispell-buffer similarly gives too many suggestions.

This seems like an Emacs thing because running aspell on the same file in the terminal manually gives a much more reasonable number of suggestions (here, 8):

screenshot of aspell

  • @Drew, thanks for the suggestion. I do see it both ways. Question edited.
    – Reid
    Commented Sep 17, 2020 at 19:07
  • Similar question on Stack Overflow with no solutions other than a block of LISP code: stackoverflow.com/questions/19186305
    – Reid
    Commented Sep 17, 2020 at 22:24

2 Answers 2


Emacs is invoking aspell as:

aspell -a -m -B --encoding=utf-8

-a is “pipe mode”. Given this information, I can reproduce the behavior in the terminal:

$ echo dbux | aspell -a -m -B --encoding=utf-8
@(#) International Ispell Version 3.1.20 (but really Aspell 0.60.8)
& dbux 47 0: DBUS, Dix, debugs, dubs, debug, box, tux, DBMS, ibex, bxs, daubs, dibs, debuts, deluxe, dybbuks, Durex, Debs, boxy, bugs, dabs, debs, dobs, dub's, dybbuk, tubs, dab's, deb's, DCS, TWX, TeX, Tex, tax, tbs, tex, DC's, TB's, Tb's, daub's, debut's, dybbuk's, Debs's, dibs's, bug's, BC's, Bk's, tub's, Doug's

Using the “ultra” suggestion mode rather than the default “normal” gives five suggestions rather than 47:

$ echo dbux | aspell -a -m -B --encoding=utf-8 --sug-mode=ultra
@(#) International Ispell Version 3.1.20 (but really Aspell 0.60.8)
& dbux 5 0: DBUS, debugs, dybbuks, dybbuk's, debarks

This can be configured in Emacs by adding --sug-mode=ultra to Ispell Extra Args in M-x customize; it works for me:

5-item ispell menu

I would still prefer to get the top dozen or so from normal mode, but this is probably better than it was.

  • So far this is the best answer. I'll self-accept but if anything better turns up I'll change it.
    – Reid
    Commented Sep 23, 2020 at 20:43

Make sure you've installed aspell dictionary. I use apt install aspell aspell-end on Debian/Ubuntu.

Then use M-x flyspell-buffer to spell check the current buffer. Flyspell is a independent packages which uses a few APIs from ispell. Most user use flyspell instead of ispell these days.

See https://blog.binchen.org/posts/what-s-the-best-spell-check-set-up-in-emacs.html for the details.

You can create a plain text personal dictionary ~/.aspell.en.pws for aspell,

Here is content of sample~/.aspell.en.pws,

personal_ws-1.1 en 3
  • I do use flyspell (the menu above is from flyspell) and I do have a personal aspell dictionary. I skimmed the link but it's a general how-to on setting up spell checking in Emacs. I don't follow how this answer addresses my issue of too many suggestions.
    – Reid
    Commented Sep 18, 2020 at 15:06

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