Spellchecking Words with Superscripts

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated December 3, 2022)
This tip applies to Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Word in Microsoft 365, and 2021

Eloise wants to spell check a long document that has superscripts used in many places. Most of the superscripts are numeric, but some are not. In all instances, the spelling checker marks the words as incorrectly spelled. Eloise could turn off spell checking for words containing numbers (which would help with numeric superscripts), but she really needs all the words to be checked. She wonders if there is a way to tell the spelling checker to ignore the superscripts and just check all the words, including those adjacent to the superscripts.

This is a tricky one, as the spelling checker in Word considers any consecutive characters between spaces or punctuation marks to be a word. Thus, "wordabc" is considered a word, even if the "abc" part is superscripted. If the superscripted part is numeric, you can sort of get around the problem by configuring the spelling checker to ignore words that contain numbers (as Eloise noted), but that doesn't help you if you want to spell-check the base word before the superscript.

There is one way that we found to get around this, and it is (admittedly) a bit of a kludge. Rather than get into detailed steps here, I'll just talk in generalities.

First, you need to define a character style that you want to use for your superscripts. (How you create styles is covered in other issues of WordTips.) Make sure that the formatting of the style is set for superscripts, plus make sure that in the Language options for the style you choose "Do not check spelling or grammar." If you cannot get this setting to "stick" in your style, you may need to choose English as the language for the style and then choose the "do not check" setting.

Now, go through the document and apply the new style to every one of your superscripts. This can be done relatively easily by using the Find and Replace capabilities of Word if you desire.

After doing this, the superscripts will look just fine, but they (and their base word) will still be shown as incorrectly spelled. The reason for this appears to be that the "do not check" setting defined in the style is not checked by the spell checker for every character in the word—or what it thinks is a word. Instead, it bases the "do not check" status of the word on the setting for the first character in the word.

This is the "sticking point" that needs to be overcome—getting the spell checker to recognize that the base word and the superscript are separate from each other. The only way to do this is to position the insertion point between the base word and the superscript and press the space bar once. Do this, and you'll immediately notice that the superscript (as long as it is formatted using your new style) is no longer marked as incorrectly spelled.

For some people, this cure may be worse than the original problem for two reasons: It puts a big, ugly space between the base word and the superscript and it allows the base word and superscript to become "separated" as Word flows text from one line to the next.

The "big ugly space" problem is easy enough to fix: Just select the space and format it to something very, very small, such as a 1-point font. With this done, neither you nor your readers will be able to tell that the base word and the superscript aren't really next to each other.

The second problem is equally easy to fix: Use a non-breaking space instead of a regular space between the base word and the superscript. The spell checker counts the non-breaking space as a demarcation point between words, so this won't mess up the spell checking.

If you want to semi-automate the add-a-space technique, you could use a macro to place the space between your base word and the superscript. This macro will do the change for you:

Sub SpellCheckSuperscriptedWords()
    With Selection.Find
        .Text = "([! .,?]{1,})>"
        .Font.Superscript = True
        .Replacement.Text = " @1"
        .MatchWildcards = True
        .Wrap = wdFindContinue
        .Execute Replace:=wdReplaceAll
    End With
    ActiveDocument.SpellingChecked = False
End Sub

The macro looks for all words that have superscripts, provided those superscripts are at the end of the word and don't occur after a punctuation mark. It then places a space and an @ sign just before the superscript and again checks the spelling in the document. You can then look for any spelling errors and correct them in the base words. When done, you can then run this macro, which removes the added space and @ sign:

Sub RemoveSpaceFromSuperscript()
    With Selection.Find
        .Text = " @"
        .Font.Superscript = True
        .Replacement.Text = ""
        .MatchWildcards = False
        .Wrap = wdFindContinue
        .Execute Replace:=wdReplaceAll
    End With
    ActiveDocument.SpellingChecked = True
End Sub


If you would like to know how to use the macros described on this page (or on any other page on the WordTips sites), I've prepared a special page that includes helpful information. Click here to open that special page in a new browser tab.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (8241) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Word in Microsoft 365, and 2021.

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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