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Displaying Nonprinting Characters

Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 2007, 2010, and 2013. If you are using an earlier version (Word 2003 or earlier), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for earlier versions of Word, click here: Displaying Nonprinting Characters.

There are several different characters, such as a space and tab, which Word does not normally display on the screen. In addition, there are several special characters that Word uses for housekeeping purposes. For instance, Word uses special characters to indicate the end of a line or the end of a paragraph. You can display these special characters, which Word refers to as nonprinting characters, by following these steps:

  1. Display the Word Options dialog box. (In Word 2007 click the Office button and then click Word Options. In Word 2010 and Word 2013 display the File tab of the ribbon and then click Options.)
  2. Click Display at the left side of the dialog box. (See Figure 1.)
  3. Figure 1. The display options in the Word Options dialog box.

  4. In the Always Show These Formatting Marks On the Screen section, select the characters you want Word to display.
  5. Click on OK.

Why would you want to display these characters? Quite simply because it is much easier to understand spacing when the characters are displayed. You can quickly tell, for instance, when you have inserted two spaces between words or added an extra carriage return. This allows you to more accurately control the look of your document and what it contains.

There is also a quick way you can turn nonprinting characters on and off using the ribbon. Display the Home tab of the ribbon and look for a tool in the Paragraph group that looks like a backwards P. (Technically this character is called a pilcrow.) This tool is known as the Show/Hide tool. Clicking it (or pressing Ctrl+*) toggles the condition of the Show All Formatting Marks checkbox in the dialog box shown earlier. Thus, it can quickly turn on and off the nonprinting character display.

There is one interesting "gottcha" to this, however. In the dialog box you can select to individually display or hide specific nonprinting characters. If you select the checkboxes for all these individual characters, using the Show/Hide tool still only toggles the Show All Formatting Marks checkbox—the individual settings for specific characters are not affected at all.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (8879) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, and 2013. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Word here: Displaying Nonprinting Characters.

Related Tips:

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Comments for this tip:

Thomas Joseph Karwin    27 Sep 2016, 22:14
I'm using Word for Mac 2011, Version 14.6.7. Recently, it has started replacing any link with the full URL in quotes, preceded by the word HYPERLINK and with the full expression in curly brackets. I don't see Word Options on this Mac version of Word, or anyplace else to turn off such displays.
Michael Penn    28 Jul 2016, 21:34
Did not find menu screen - using Word for Mac 2011 version 14.3.6

C    28 Apr 2016, 18:53
THANK YOU awyatt!!!! I searched EVERYWHERE to turn this off. Thanks to your advice, finally succeed. I wish you all the happiness in all the world! (It was driving me CRAZY!!)
Donna    18 Sep 2015, 11:30
Just got Word 2016 for Mac. When I display non-printing characters for editing purposes, the space mark is so tiny I can barely see it. Other than zooming to crazy levels, is there a way to customize/enlarge the size of the space character? I found nothing in Preferences.
awyatt    20 Aug 2015, 15:40
Dan: These tips (as they say) cover the PC versions of Word.

Be that as it may, you can in your version of word click on the Word menu, then click Preferences. On the Preferences dialog box, click View and you can make the changes.

The Mac equivalent of the Ctrl+* shortcut is Cmd+8.

Dan    20 Aug 2015, 05:23
I have WORD 2001, MAC version 14.1.3 on my MAC

I find NO option button on my Tools menu. And I've accidentally revealed the ghosted paragraph marks - which I do not want. I've tried everything I can think of to hide them (I don't have any hide/show button either).

Advice, please... thanks, Dan
Sreya    02 Aug 2015, 12:41
Thanks. This will surely heip in my studies
Stella    17 Mar 2015, 08:38
Is there a way for Word to display ONLY non-breaking spaces, rather than all spaces? This would be invaluable when editing text that needs non-breaking spaces before symbols, for instance. I find it hard to read with all spaces showing, and very fiddly to have to keep switching 'show formatting' on and off.
Perhaps there is a macro for this?
Raj    28 Jan 2015, 11:26
Thank you and appreciate taking time to create these tips
Jean    28 Dec 2014, 17:10
Allen: I have spent hours on an assignment on Word 2013. We are supposed to delete only the Paragraph signs where there is white space between lines. The Hard returns are to stay on the document. I can't figure out how to do this.

Any ideas please?

Thanks so much!

Connie    12 Dec 2014, 09:50
Thanks - I'm documenting some procedures in Word, but I'm using Word 2011 for Mac. Your pages help me document menu access to the same features in Word for Windows.
George    07 Jul 2014, 13:57
How can I embed color control characters within a TXT document that will display them when viewed in Word?
Ashok    26 May 2014, 05:51
Learned just what i needed -- and discovered some additional functions as well.

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