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: Displaying Nonprinting Characters.

Displaying Nonprinting Characters

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated April 11, 2020)

There are several different characters, such as a space and tab, which Word does not normally display on the screen. In addition, there are several special characters that Word uses for housekeeping purposes. For instance, Word uses special characters to indicate the end of a line or the end of a paragraph. You can display these special characters, which Word refers to as nonprinting characters, by following these steps:

  1. Display the Word Options dialog box. (In Word 2007 click the Office button and then click Word Options. In Word 2010 or a later version, display the File tab of the ribbon and then click Options.)
  2. Click Display at the left side of the dialog box. (See Figure 1.)
  3. Figure 1. The Display options in the Word Options dialog box.

  4. In the Always Show These Formatting Marks On the Screen section, select the characters you want Word to display.
  5. Click on OK.

Why would you want to display these characters? Quite simply, because it is much easier to understand spacing when the characters are displayed. You can quickly tell, for instance, when you have inserted two spaces between words or added an extra carriage return. This allows you to more accurately control the look of your document and what it contains.

There is also a quick way you can turn nonprinting characters on and off using the ribbon. Display the Home tab of the ribbon and look for a tool in the Paragraph group that looks like a backwards P. (Technically this character is called a pilcrow.) This tool is known as the Show/Hide tool. Clicking it toggles the condition of the Show All Formatting Marks checkbox in the dialog box shown earlier. Thus, it can quickly turn on and off the nonprinting character display.

There is one interesting "gottcha" to this, however. In the dialog box, you can select to individually display or hide specific nonprinting characters. If you select the checkboxes for all these individual characters, using the Show/Hide tool still only toggles the Show All Formatting Marks checkbox—the individual settings for specific characters are not affected at all.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (8879) 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: Displaying Nonprinting Characters.

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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