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: Potential Shortcut Key Problems.

Potential Shortcut Key Problems

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated February 14, 2015)


Many users, especially when they are first entering text (as opposed to subsequent editing and formatting), prefer to accomplish as many tasks as possible from the keyboard. Word provides a generous supply of built-in keyboard shortcuts (these are described in the on-line Help and in various issues of WordTips) and also allows users to create their own keyboard shortcuts.

Shortcut keys can be assigned to commands, macros, fonts, building blocks, styles, and some symbols. The keys can be any combination of Alt, Ctrl, Shift, and any character that can be entered from the keyboard, including a space. You can even duplicate the way Word uses prefix keys for some international characters.

Users are often advised to use Alt as part of a shortcut key because it is less used by Word's built-in shortcuts. This certainly applies to Alt+Ctrl and Alt+Shift combinations. But users should be very wary of using Alt alone. The reason is that ribbon tabs and commands are accessed from the keyboard with the Alt key. For example, Alt+N displays the Insert tab of the ribbon. If you assign Alt+N as a shortcut key, Word does not warn you that Alt+N is reserved for the ribbon tab. In fact, the dialog box describes Alt+N as 'unassigned.' This is true of all other Alt commands used by Word, as well.

Some people regard this shortcoming as a bug in Word, but it appears to have been done by design. (Why? Who knows!) Users should be aware of the potential problem, and be alert to possible conflicts when creating their own keyboard shortcuts.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (8476) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, and 2013. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Word here: Potential Shortcut Key Problems.

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 four less than 4?

2016-11-06 00:33:22

Karen Schouest

Hi, Allen -

I have been following you for years, and I love your tip, but this is one where I will have to respectfully disagree with you.

I have been using a number of Alt+[one other key] shortcuts for many years, and the only problem I've ever had is the once-in-a-very-rare-blue-moon issue of timing or hitting the wrong key combination for the wrong function.

But 99.99% of the time, I enjoy the best of both worlds of having access to all of the ribbon functions PLUS the shortcuts I have created that happen to overlap some of those assignments.

The reason for that is because the ribbon does not behave like the typical prefix keys. A typical prefix key scenario would be something like this:

Suppose you created three shortcuts for "Accept all changes" (Alt+A,A), "Accept and move to next" (Alt+A,M), and "Accept this change" (Alt+A,T).

To use them, you would first press Alt+A and LET GO of the keys, then press the second letter (A, M, T in this case).

But in the Ribbon scenario, in order to use the shortcuts, you simply press the Alt key and LET go, then press the appropriate letter that corresponds to the Ribbon function you want to get to (e.g., H for Home, R for Review, etc.).

In my case, for example, when I press Alt+N, I get the en dash, and Alt+R invokes the ToolsRecordMacroToggle function I like those shortcuts much better than Word's default shortcut assignments).

But if I press Alt, then let go, then press N, I get the Ribbon Insert Tab, and R takes me to the Ribbon Review Tab.

The only glitch is when my fingers trip up and there is a lag between hitting the Alt key before hitting the letter (when I want an actual shortcut), or not letting go of the Alt key fast enough before hitting a letter (when I want the Ribbon). But I can probably count on one hand the number of times that's ever happened ever since the Ribbon came along, so it's a nonissue for me.

I like having the best of both worlds. :)

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