Multiple-languages Language Multiple-languages Culture: «How to make a TSV file»

From Polyglot Club WIKI

< Language‎ | Multiple-languages‎ | Culture
This lesson can still be improved. EDIT IT NOW! & become VIP
Rate this lesson:
(one vote)

Tab-separated values (TSV) file is a simple format for storing data in a tabular structure.

You may have visited Language/Multiple-languages/Culture/Internet-Dictionaries and want to utilise some downloadable stuff by creating flashcards on Anki or Mnemosyne. But it requires too much effort if you copy-paste entry by entry. If we can use a spreadsheet, things will be much easier. Can we do that?

You may have noticed that both programs have “File -> Import...” option. But they don't support XLS or XLSX files. What should you do?

What is TSV[edit | edit source]

If you have opened a spreadsheet program (e.g. LibreOffice Calc, Apache OpenOffice Calc, ONLYOFFICE Spreadsheet Editor, Microsoft Office Excel) and click on “File -> Save As...”, you can see some other formats to choose from, one of which is “CSV”.

CSV” means “Comma-separated values”. It uses commas to separate columns. If you have a comma in the text, then it uses quotation marks to quote your text, so the comma won't be counted as a column separator. If you have quotation marks in your text, then the escape character backslash “\” need to be placed before the quotation mark. This is an example:

You may have realised that a CSV file doesn't store any styling data. If you save as a CSV file, all the information about fonts, colours, hyperlinks, etc. will be lost. CSV files are lightweight, so when you just need pure data, this format is ideal. Do Anki and Mnemosyne support it?

Not seems to be so, but its sibling TSV is supported. In Anki, it is called “Text separated by tabs or semicolons”; in Mnemosyne, it is called “Tab-separated text files”. What is it?

TSV” means “Tab-separated values”. It is similar with CSV and has an advantage over CSV: it uses “tabs” to separate columns, so there is no need to use quotation marks to indicate commas as text instead of column separators. Both “TSV” and “CSV” belong to “DSV”, delimiter-separated values.

You may wonder what a “tab” means. The tabular key is the key above the “Caps Lock” key on your keyboard (in most cases). It is used for aligning text in different lines to make it easier to form a table for typewriters and is inherited by computers. If you press this key in a text editor, it will look like some spaces; if you press this key in a browser, it will move the focus to the next element (link, textbox, button, etc.). In a spreadsheet program, you can press the Tab key to move to the next column or the Enter key to move to the next row. TSV files also use these two keys to separate columns and rows. It is more ideal than CSV. This is an example:

How to save as TSV file? This is a bit confusing, because TSV is not so well-known as CSV. If you are using LibreOffice, click on that “Save As...”, select CSV, then in the dialogue box, choose {Tab} as “Field delimiter” and ignore “String delimiter” (if you have neutral quotation marks ⟨"…"⟩ in the text, they will be converted to typographic quotation marks ⟨“…”⟩). The file you save has “CSV” as its file extension, but it's a TSV file essentially.

How to convert to TSV[edit | edit source]

Formats[edit | edit source]

Spreadsheet formats[edit | edit source]

In XLS format or what else, you just need to open it and save as TSV.

Sheets in other document formats[edit | edit source]

If it is a sheet in DOC, PDF or other document formats, then you can select the first several characters in the table and scroll to the bottom of the table, press a Shift key, then select the last character in the table. Copy and paste to a spreadsheet program, save as TSV.

But this can cause problems sometimes: all content are stuffed in the first cell. In this case, you can use open-source tools Tabula, Excalibur or something else to do this work. But they may be not always reliable. If they have failed, you can try online services. Some online services have page limits, then you need open-source tools PDFsam, PDFTK Builder, PDF-Shuffler or something else to split PDF files.

Custom format[edit | edit source]

Same delimiter[edit | edit source]

You need to copy the delimiter between two columns. Open the file with a spreadsheet program, paste the delimiter into “Field delimiter” (for LibreOffice).

Different delimiters[edit | edit source]

In this case, you need to use a text editor like Notepad on Windows instead of spreadsheet program.

Other formats[edit | edit source]

DB[edit | edit source]

You need open-source tools DB Browser for SQLite, SQLiteStudio or something else to open it. See which tables it contains, export tables you need, make sure “Field separator” is “Tab”.

DICT/DICT.DZ[edit | edit source]

DICT is compressed as DICT.DZ, which is gzip in essence. Open-source tools XAchiver for Linux and BSD, 7-Zip for Windows can open DICT.DZ files without changing the file extension. DICT files can be edited with a text editor.

SLOB and some others[edit | edit source]

It is a format designed for Aard 2. Open-source tool PyGlossary can do.

XML and some others[edit | edit source]

Outdated format with incredible popularity.

This sort of conversion is a bit different, because XML, JSON and the rising star YAML are not in the form of sheet. They are hierarchical, tree-like. You can find a list of tools at Structured text tools, convert to JSON, then TSV.

A video about how to import XML into LibreOffice Calc.

Skill training[edit | edit source]

It requires the skill of combined use of text editor. You need to look through the file, discover its patterns and differentiate contents through the patterns. It's similar to chemistry.

In a text editor's “replace” function, “Tab” can be represented with “\t”, “Enter” can be represented with “\n” on Linux, BSD, macOS, Solaris, or “\r\n” on Windows. “t” means “tab”, while “r” and “n” mean “return” and “newline” respectively (not to be mentioned in the examples below). The backslash is an “escape character”. Further reading on newline and return. What's more, you can use something called “regular expression”, which is complex and powerful. You can visit this tutorial and this tutorial and this page.

If you find mojibake in your text editor, you probably need to open the text editor and click on “open file” in it, instead of directly double-clicking on the file; in the encoding selection, try some possible encodings.

Several operations require waiting because of the large amount of character replacements.

Please try to solve the problems yourself. See the steps as late as possible.

Example 1: English-French FreeDict Dictionary[edit | edit source]

a /ə/

1. à, au milie de, en, dans, parmi

2. un, quelqu'un

3. àraisonde, par

4. une

abacus /æbəkəs/

1. abaque

2. boulier

abandon /əbændən/

1. abdiquer

2. abandonner, délaisser, livrer, quitter

3. renoncer, résigner

Steps for putting multiple lines into one:

  1. Open with a text editor;
  2. Delete useless information (first lines in the file);
  3. Replace “\n2.” with “; 2.”;
  4. Replace “\n3.” with “; 3.”;
  5. Increase the number until such string not found;
  6. Replace “/\n1.” with “/\t1.”.
  7. Replace “ /” with “\t/”;
  8. Save.

In step 5, you can actually use “/\n” or “\n1.”, but the one shown has a better reliability.

Final result:

1 a /ə/ 1. à, au milie de, en, dans, parmi; 2. un, quelqu'un; 3. àraisonde, par 4. une
2 abacus /æbəkəs/ 1. abaque; 2. boulier
3 abandon /əbændən/ 1. abdiquer; 2. abandonner, délaisser, livrer, quitter; 3. renoncer, résigner

Example 2: JMdict[edit | edit source]

あああ;あーあ;あーー;アアア;アーア;アーー /(int) (expression of despair, resignation, boredom, disgust, etc.) (See 嗚呼・ああ・1) aah!/ooh!/oh no!/oh boy!/EntL2205270X/

ああいう(P);ああゆう /(exp,adj-pn) that sort of/like that/(P)/EntL2085090X/

ああいう風に [ああいうふうに] /(exp) (uk) in that way/like that/EntL2424550X/


  1. Open with a text editor (select Japanese (EUC-JP) as encoding);
  2. Delete useless information (the first line);
  3. Replace “ /” with “\ /”;
  4. Replace “]\” with “]”;
  5. Replace “\ /” with “ [] /”;
  6. Replace “] /” with “\t”;
  7. Replace “ [” with “\t”;
  8. Select “Regular Expression”, replace “/EntL.+” with “”;
  9. Save.


Step 3, 4, 5 add a backslash to all entries and delete them in entries with square parenthesis, then replace the backslashes with square parentheses.

Step 8 deletes “/EntL” and its following characters in the line. “.+” in regular expression means any character (at least one) until newline.

Final Result:

1 あああ;あーあ;あーー;アアア;アーア;アーー (int) (expression of despair, resignation, boredom, disgust, etc.) (See 嗚呼・ああ・1) aah!/ooh!/oh no!/oh boy!
2 ああいう(P);ああゆう (exp,adj-pn) that sort of/like that/(P)
3 ああいう風に ああいうふうに (exp) (uk) in that way/like that

How to combine data with same column from two spreadsheets[edit | edit source]

You have a dictionary file in spreadsheet format, but it has so many entries that you don't want to memorise them all. Then you get a list of common words in spreadsheet format. How to combine them?

Here's a guidance for Microsoft Office Excel.

For LibreOffice Calc and other spreadsheet programs, you need to put the two sheets alongside, then use VLOOKUP (vertical lookup).

In this example, column A and B are from the frequency list, column E and F are from the dictionary. Column C will be the result: meaning from the dictionary attached to the frequency list:

1 frequency word meaning word meaning
2 1 b a ma
3 2 a b mb
4 3 c c mc
5 4 e d md


  1. Select C2, write “=VLOOKUP(B2,$E$2:$F$5,2,0)”;
  2. Move the cursor to the cell's lower-right corner and double click.

Explanation to the VLOOKUP:

The 1st value is the cell, the value in which is to be looked up; the 2nd value is the range to be looked up, in which the leftmost cell's value is to match the 1st value; the 3rd value is the cell's position to the left border of the range defined by the 2nd value to be looked up; the 4th value is either 0, left column unsorted and look for an exact match or 1, left column sorted and may look for something else. Further reading on Apache OpenOffice and LibreOffice.


1 frequency word meaning word meaning
2 1 b mb a ma
3 2 a ma b mb
4 3 c mc c mc
5 4 e #N/A d md

Then you need to copy or cut column C, then paste special (shortcut Shift+Ctrl+V), make sure “formula” is unchecked, click on “OK”. Delete column E and F, save as TSV.


GrimPixel and Vincent

Create a new Lesson