Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Word in Microsoft 365, and 2021. 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: Understanding Pattern Matching.

Understanding Pattern Matching

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated September 10, 2022)
This tip applies to Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Word in Microsoft 365, and 2021


The Find and Replace feature built into Word includes two completely different search engines. In the normal search engine you search for simple items, such as text or special characters. Tips related to this type of searching have been presented in other issues of WordTips.

The second search engine is the more powerful, however. It uses a search method known as pattern matching. When you use pattern matching you can search for very complex and very subtle character sequences in your document. Unfortunately, learning the pattern matching capabilities of Word can sometimes be frustrating.

How you switch between the two different search engines depends on the version of Word you are using. In most versions of Word you should pull up either the Find or Replace tabs of the Find and Replace dialog box and click on the More button. In the expanded area of the dialog box, make sure the Use Wildcards checkbox is selected. This causes Word to interpret what is in the Find What and Replace With boxes entirely differently than if the checkbox is not selected.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (263) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Word in Microsoft 365, and 2021. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Word here: Understanding Pattern Matching.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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