What Dictionary Does NYT Spelling Bee Use?


When you play the New York Times spelling bee, and then it says word not found, it is infuriating. I know it’s word. Everyone else knows it’s a word, but why does it not show up and give you those six hard earned points? Well, it’s because it’s usually a different dictionary than we think it should be using.

According to the New York Times, we don’t really know what dictionary it uses. Why is that? Well it officially, “Spelling Bee has a separate curated word list that strives to incorporate commonly used words, with a couple challenging words from time to time.”

Well that doesn’t seem to help. Here is what I have figured out. Words that only exist as proper names do not count. So JOHN is okay, while JONATHAN probably would not be. Archaic words are fair game. Words you would never want to say to your mother are not going to be valid Spelling Bee words.

Some words appears to be how you might spell out a sound. Some are the uncommon, lesser-known variations of common words.

All this is to say, use your basic knowledge, and then just go from there. There is no time penalty or score penalty for entering a word that is not a valid Spelling Bee word. Does it really matter what dictionary it is, because if the Spelling Bee says it’s a word, then well, it’s a word, because you’ll gladly take those points every time.


  1. Merriam-Webster accepts “gell” for the March 15 puzzle. Also “ween.”
    Why not the NYT Spelling Bee?

    • I agree. Today (25/08/23) I entered the word ‘gibbet’, a common enough word for a scaffold, only to be denied. It is defined Merriam-Webster. I have found too many words I am familiar with not accepted and am going to stop playing as it is frustrating

  2. I’m not a great speller . so when a word is denied I check with Webster and carefully reenter. It still maybe denied. Thess are common usage words. Why this type of exception?

  3. In other words, the Spelling Bee is playing by an arbitrary set of rules. I and countless others have pointed out dozens of common words that were not accepted. (Example: everyone who has been on or around boats knows what a DAVIT is.) That makes it hard to accept the dozens of farfetched words and spelling “variations” that are sometimes listed as answers.

    Like the soon-to-come “real” strike zone in baseball, using a standard dictionary will not diminish Spelling Bee in the least. Until then, there is an element of Alice in Wonderland in play here.

  4. I find that those running the puzzle diminish the joy of playing. The puzzle basically tests players to recall their lexical range. The most important part of this exercise is recalling whatever you know that may help advance your score. However, the second key part is to have a large vocabulary. When those running the puzzle arbitrarily decide that parts of one person’s vocabulary are invalid, that is a negative experience. It is ridiculous to argue otherwise, since the enjoyment of the game is maximized by a maximum vocabulary. Despite the rule makers creating a negative experience this way, they have a spirit of indifference to their own forced diminishment of enjoyment. It is particularly irksome when some other words that are clearly arcane, weird, obscure or highly technical are included. I have used some technical words myself (e.g., a species name most people would have never heard of) yet have seen more common words blocked for no good reason. This could all be fixed by writing a computer program that selects reasonably well-known words found by scannng a language database (e.g., a database of countless examples of writing and speech transcripts). That won’t happen. The NYT prefers exclusivity and flexing the power of denial through arbitrariness. They could prove me wrong, but I would not bank on them doing this with their current staff.

  5. If the NYT had any branding sense the universe of eligible words would be all the words which have appeared anywhere in the NYT newspaper, perhaps in the past year or 10 years…something…That would be a big enough corpus of words to make a fun game and it would promote the Times as the place to go to expand one’s vocabulary.

  6. Canadian here. I agree with the points raised in other comments about what words are acceptable or not. I, too, find the game frustrating when word after word is rejected, and more so for the use of the U as in colour, honour, valour, to name a few.

  7. If a missing word irks you, there is a link in the help page to send in words you think should be in their dictionary. A few of the ones I have sent in that weren’t accepted earlier on now appear acceptable. I find it helpful to keep a list of rejected words, along with their definitions, and send it in periodically. Not that many have been added, but it gives somewhere to vent my grumbles.

    I do like the idea of Spelling Bee accepting words published in NYT articles, perhaps with the added caveat that they should have appeared in at least 5 (or some arbitrary) number of articles before being added to the dictionary.

  8. Like today’s puzzle. a specific type of apple. How is that not a proper name? How is that common, except maybe in
    Also the rules seem to change. I could swear that it used to accept words defining a person’s ethnicity or religion. Now it seems to indicate these are not accepted.

    I generally am hitting several words some days that do not register yet are reasonably common English words. Yet many words in specialized domains seem to make it in. Not that that’s a bad thing.


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