Spellchecking Words with Superscripts

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated November 10, 2020)


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.

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, and Word in Microsoft 365.

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 five more than 2?

2019-05-15 22:22:02

Malcolm Patterson

One style with which I work calls for a thin space between a character and any (superscript) note reference unless it follows punctuation (which it usually does). It also calls for a thin space between note references if more than one is cited at the same place. This occurs occasionally, as the note references in a clause should normally be at the end of a clause. Consequently, this style choice may "collect" several note references in one place. Superscripted non-breaking spaces serve both purposes.

2015-08-03 08:57:20

Eloise DeHaan

Thank you! Rod and Ken posted solutions that did the trick for me, although I'm saving a copy of each report to the desktop and working in that copy for now, for fear I won't be able to delete the inserted spaces once I've run the spell checker.

2015-07-22 11:14:15

Christianna White

Perfect timing! I was going to submit my problem today, but this tip is related. However, my problem has to do with a subscript r combined with capital letter M to form the notation for resilient modulus. Spell check reads Mr just fine--even without a trailing period--but consistently blue squiggles the following word because it isn't capitalized as a proper name.

I've struggled with this for a long time and would welcome any and all suggestions.

2015-07-22 00:41:57

Ken Endacott

Here are two macros that do what Rod suggests with Peter's variation. The first macro puts a space and the character @ between the word and the superscript and also internally in the superscript if it contains spaces or word delimiters such as a period. It then invokes the spell checker.

The second macro removes the space and @ characters from subscripts and turns off the spell checker. This will also remove flags from all misspelt words. Because the @ character is a wildcard it is necessary to turn MatchWildcards off. Another character that is unlikely to appear in a superscript could be used instead of @.

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

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

2015-07-21 08:32:51

Ken Endacott

Yes, it could be done with a macro quite easily. If I can find some spare time I will write one and post here.

2015-07-21 02:57:43


Have I missed something? Whilst I admit I couldn't write one, isn't there a macro solution?

2015-07-18 22:56:42

Peter Zavon

To avoid removal of spaces within the superscript when using Rod's method, in addition to inserting the space [space] between base word and superscript insert some character not used anywhere in your text. For this discussion, I'll call it [char]. So insert [space][char] at the beginning of each superscript.

When you are ready to remove the space, use Find and Replace to identify the string [space][char]. This will catch the spaces you added but not any of the "native" spaces in the superscript.

2015-07-18 10:46:24

Munawar Iqbal

I think the procedure given Rod is a better/easier way of handling this issue.

2015-07-18 08:30:00

Rod Grealish

Along similar lines you could introduce a space character before any superscripted text using Find/Replace with wildcards, do the spell check, and then remove the extra space using Find/Replace with wildcards.

A. To add the extra space

1. Select the Find and Replace dialog box, type '([! .,?]{1,})' into the Find What: box, click Format, then Font ..., then Superscript, and finally OK.

2. Type ' 1' into the Replace with: box

3. Select Use wildcards

4. Click Replace or Replace All(according to taste *)

B. Run the spell checker. In cases where the superscript is already preceded by a space there may be two spaces.

C. To remove the extra space

1. Select the Find and Replace dialog box, type '([ ])' into the Find What: box, click Format, then Font ..., then Superscript, and finally OK.

2. Clear the contents of the Replace with: box

3. Select Use wildcards

4. Click Replace or Replace All (according to taste *)

* I find it useful to click Replace a few times to ensure the Find and Replace is working as expected before clicking Replace All.

Spaces within a superscript are removed by step C4 in the addition to the leading spaces introduced in Step A4.

I suspect that this could be improved with some work.

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