Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Word in Office 365. 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: Stubborn Highlighting.

Stubborn Highlighting

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated April 16, 2020)


Jim wrote about a problem he was having with some highlighted text he couldn't get rid of. He typed a list of items intending later to format them with numbering. Before formatting the numbering, he highlighted the first word of one item of the list and chose New Comment from the Review tab of the ribbon to add a comment to the document.

After submitting the document for review, Jim removed the comment associated with the list item. The number to the left of the text remained highlighted, as did the period following the number. He backspaced over the number and re-did it. It still returned, highlighted, as did all the numbers for the items above it.

Jim is suffering from a common ailment, believe it or not. The formatting for numbered items in a list is contained within the paragraph marks for the list item in question. Thus, if you have a numbered list and the 2 in the list (with its period) is formatted funny, then formatting for that number and period is contained within the paragraph mark that is at the end of that particular paragraph. You get rid of the formatting by selecting the paragraph mark and then making your highlighting changes.

In Jim's case, the entire paragraph could be selected (including the paragraph mark) and then you could press Ctrl+Q (to reset the paragraph formatting) and Ctrl+Space Bar (to reset the explicit character formatting). That should take care of any stubborn residual formatting. If the stubborn formatting happens to be highlighting, however, it is not removed by either of these shortcuts. In the case of stubborn highlighting, you must make sure the paragraph mark is included in your selection and then choose No Color from the Text Highlight Color tool in the Font group of the Home tab of the ribbon.

It is interesting to note that the effect that Jim describes of all the numbers above the current one becoming affected (after he backspaced, pressed Enter, and redid the item) is consistent with the solution just described. When you position the insertion point at the beginning of a numbered list item, and then backspace, you eventually erase the paragraph mark at the end of the foregoing list item. When you press Enter, Word places a new paragraph mark at the end of the item. On what does it base the new paragraph mark? On the one with the errant formatting at the end of the current list item. Thus, the foregoing list item would then exhibit the faulty number formatting, as well as the current one.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (7753) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Word in Office 365. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Word here: Stubborn Highlighting.

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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What is nine minus 4?

2020-04-19 12:27:09


Hi all,

I have a different kind of stubborn higlighting. I am working on a document which has tables. When I add text to the table box it starts higlighting the text. It highlights the text even though the higlight marker has no color. I've tried clearing the styles from each box and the issue still occurs.
Does anyone have any tips on this issue?

2019-04-09 07:59:00


Ctrl+Spacebar worked for me. Thanks.

2018-10-30 03:06:31

Mark Johnson

There is an alternative possibility for the same symptoms which as taken me a day to resolve.

If a document\template was previously protected and contained place markers and subsequently the protection was removed. This then causes all the text, formatting marks etc. to be shaded (in my case in gray but another user stated pale yellow) and the place markers will appear in any hard copies of your document.

The resolution to the above was to activate protected sections with filling in forms enabled instead of editable ranges by

1.Click on Restrict Editing from the Review toolbar
2.Under Editing Restrictions choose Filling in Forms.

This then removed the shading. After saving my document I was then able to leave the document with Restrict Editing un-enforced.

I hope that the above may save some else the need to spend a day of frustration.

Note: I am using Word 2013

2018-10-16 09:55:13


Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I was going crazy trying to remove the formatting. CTRL+Space was just what I needed!

2018-05-21 12:25:43


very helpful, thank you!

2018-02-23 19:11:29


This worked! THANK YOU SO MUCH!

2017-10-20 04:51:42

Surendera M. Bhanot

What I used to do was to copy the entire text with the different highlighting and formating copied from the websites, to text editor like 'WordPad' and it removed all sort of the formatting, even the hyperlinks, and then copy it and paste back to the word document and reformat it as i desire!!

But this ^Q and ^SB are one up on that!! Thanks Allen!!

Still if anything troubles me I resort back to my old trick!!

2017-10-19 12:52:07

Michelle King

This has helped me tremendously just now - 4 years after you wrote this. THANK YOU!

2017-04-19 14:20:04


Thanks Allen! Your tip helped me

2017-02-19 08:41:44


Thanks! Very detailed and helpful tips, you and this video ( helped me to solve this stubborn highlighting problem

2017-02-16 22:56:21


Thank you ,it was very useful

2017-01-21 13:14:05

Ruth Elkins

Thank you for sharing your issues with WORD and your solutions. This helped me greatly. Before your comment I had tried to work through some solutions just the way your described, but still had that stubborn highlighting. Since I applied your solution, I can stop pulling my hair out.

2016-12-19 11:31:23

Nash Popovic

Cntrl+Space very useful. Thank you!

2016-12-02 20:04:49


Thanks, I c&p an address out of a facebook message, composed a letter and the same thing happened. Your ^Q, ^SB took care of it. Thanks!

2016-11-17 19:21:19


Crtl+Q did the trick for word 2016. Thanks!

2016-06-08 16:11:51

Cara O\'sullivan

Great tip! Thank you!

2016-06-08 11:56:51

john potenza

I have a common Word problem i.e., suddenly I'm unable to highlight words in my word 10 docs. I've searched for the answer but can't find it. Please help. John

2016-04-05 12:50:12


I searched all over the 'net including useless Microsoft tips on how to solve this problem. Allen Wyatt's suggestion above (highlight text, control + space bar) is the only thing that worked. Thank you!

2016-03-04 21:58:57


When I use tabs on word 2013 on tables it recently started moving the cursor over and highlight the text behind it. it never did this before and I cant figure out how to stop it ? do you know how to stop this ?

2015-10-22 09:53:15

D. Doernberg

PS-- would it be helpful update the body of the article with this clarifying info about only removing explicit (vs. underlying style) formatting?

2015-10-22 09:50:24

D. Doernberg

Thanks so much Allen for the fast, helpful, and concise explanation-- completely answers my question!

2015-10-21 12:10:14


DD: The Ctrl+Spacebar shortcut doesn't remove all formatting, it removes all explicit character formatting.

This means that it returns the formatting of the characters to whatever formatting is dictated by the underlying styles. If there are styles applied to the text, those are not removed by the shortcut, and those styles could result in bold, italic, or fonts being used for the characters.


2015-10-21 11:59:47

D. Doernberg

GREAT tip that solved 99% of my problems, but I'm puzzled by CTRL+SpaceBar -- it resets character formatting in most places by just removing the blue highlight (left by a PDF to MS Word converter program) AND leaves rich text like bold, italics, etc. as-it... just what I want! BUT... in one place in the same document it doesn’t preserve the rich text, instead removing all formatting and leaves the text in boring Courier.

In web surfing more about this Character Reset it appears that maybe that "strip all formatting, including rich text" this is the proper/expected behavior... so I'm puzzled why it's working differently for me (MS Word 2011 Mac) in most places!

2015-09-11 17:49:04


Please I need urgent help. I copied a text from a website and pasted in ms word 2007. There has been this background grey highlight which I haven't been able to get rid off, even with the tips above. Could you help me out on this please?

2015-08-18 09:39:28


Thank you Joe Dec 2014 I did ctl space and it worked - nothing else was working

thank you

2015-07-14 16:25:46


after removing the highlighting it still has background shading can not remove it without deleting the text, how do you solve this problem

2015-04-26 09:35:35


Fantastic! Tried 4 other tips that didn't work until I got to this one. Word doc had numbered paragraphs. One paragraph had a highlighted number. Couldn't get rid of the highlight. Selected the entire paragraph, including the final punctuation mark, and set highlighting to no color. Bingo!

2015-04-14 00:15:01


Sorry--none of these tips, or any others I've found on this, work! I tried all of them in my word doc, none of them work. Please help. This is driving me nuts. Trying to get work done and can't remove highlights even trying all of your tips. thank you.

2014-12-05 11:42:50


Highlight the text and press ctl+space

2014-09-23 10:02:39


Outstanding! I've had that bizarre grey highlighting problem in MsWord for YEARS and never knew how to fix it. I have a big assignment for work which involves copying and pasting from online legislation, and was stressing wondering how on earth to get rid of all the grey bars. Thank you so much!

2014-08-11 04:56:53


Thanks for this tip - it always pays to remember just how much information Word "carries" in the paragraph marks.

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