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: Adding Half Spaces to Punctuation.

Adding Half Spaces to Punctuation

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated November 18, 2019)


David wonders if there is a way of getting a half-space in front of colons, semi-colons, question marks, and exclamation marks to improve readability in computer fonts that appear in his documents. He finds that the punctuation appears too close to the characters that precede those marks.

There is no way to do this automatically, but there are a few ways you can manually add the desired spacing. One simple way is to simply insert a regular space in front of the punctuation and then adjust the size of the space. For instance, if your normal typeface is 12-point, you could select the added space and then adjust its point size to 6-point. You could also simply make the space a superscript character, which also reduces the point size used for the character.

There is a problem with this approach, however. The added space will affect how Word handles line breaks. If the punctuation appears near the end of a line, it is possible for it to wrap to the next line instead of staying with whatever it follows (as it would if the space wasn't added). To get around this you could try using a non-breaking space instead of the regular space.

Another thing you can try is to use what Word refers to as a "1/4 em space" before the punctuation. Some people like this approach because you don't need to mess with changing the font size of anything. Just use the Special Characters tab of the Symbol dialog box to insert the character. The width of this special space is (as its name implies) one-quarter of the width of the letter "m" in whatever typeface you are using. If this is still too wide of a space, then the approach described earlier will be your best bet.

You should understand that the narrow space symbol entered in this manner is handled just like a regular space when it comes to line breaking. There is no non-breaking version of this narrow space, so you are left to try what may appear to be a complex approach: put a "no-width non break" character on both sides of the narrow space. Thus, the sequence would be "no-width non break", "1/4 em space", no-width non break", and then your punctuation. The addition of the "no-width non break" characters acts like a non-printing "glue" that holds the sequence together on a single line.

If you know that the width you want to add is equal to the width of an existing character (such as an "i", an "l", or a horizontal bar), then you could simply add that character before the punctuation, select the character, and then format it as white text. If you have a lot of such changes to make in a document, you can use Find and Replace to do the changes for you:

  1. Set up a wildcard search that looks for "([\:;\?\!])" (without the quote marks) and replaces it with "$$\1" (again without the quote marks). This puts two dollar signs ($$) in front of each of the target punctuation marks.
  2. Do a regular search (with wildcards turned off) for the two dollar signs and replace them with your single character of the desired width, formatted as white text.

There is still another option to try to get the desired space in front of the punctuation. Follow these steps to add a half-space between the last letter of the word preceding the punctuation:

  1. Select the last letter of the word and the punctuation mark.
  2. Display the Home tab of the ribbon and click on the small icon at the lower-right of the Font group. Word displays the Font dialog box.
  3. Make sure the Advanced tab is displayed. (See Figure 1.)
  4. Figure 1. The Advanced tab of the Font dialog box.

  5. In the Spacing drop-down list, choose Expanded.
  6. Using the By control, specify whatever fraction of a point you desire for the space.
  7. Click OK.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (11054) 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: Adding Half Spaces to Punctuation.

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 4 + 3?

2016-11-03 16:58:52


In the comment by Robert Monson, I had some difficulty with the meaning of

"Type the word with the colon. Then 't' the latr letter and the colon.orIn 'Home' click on 'Font' (down arrow at bottom right;
Click on 'Advanced';"

After a little experimenting, I think the sentence may have been meant to look like this

"Type the word with the colon. Then select the last letter and the colon. In 'Home' click on 'Font' (down arrow at bottom right;
Click on 'Advanced';"

The rest of the comment seems to be OK as is.

The justification tip is very nice.


2016-10-17 14:04:32

Robert Monson

There is another way of 'adding half-spaces to punctuation: Here's how:

Let's say you want to add a half space to the last letter of a word and a colon.

Type the word with the colon. Then 't' the latr letter and the colon.orIn 'Home' click on 'Font' (down arrow at bottom right;
Click on 'Advanced';

Under 'Spacing' box click down arrow and select 'Expanded'.
In box to right 'By' increase to whatever fraction of point you want;
Click OK.
That's it! I use it all the time.

Another tip:

When 'justifying' lines, to avoid large spaces between words, use the 'Expand' feature. First turn on 'Kerning" (also in the 'Font' section), then select the line with the large spaces and go to 'Font', 'Advanced' and select 'Expanded' 'By' and increase by .4 o5 ,5 point and click OK.
The expanded spacing is not noticeable, but you will be surprised how few large spaces there are.

2016-10-17 07:05:30

Surendera M. Bhanot

There's another way to achieve this to put a non-breaking space <Crl+shift+space> between the last character and whatever sign you want to pace there. This space is invisible and it can be serched as ^s <ctrl+small s> This will eliminate the problem of handling line breaks.

2016-10-17 07:00:42

Paul Osborn

There is much simpler, more intuitive way.

Turn the proofing language of the text which you will write to French.
What you write will then be in standard French typographical format.

This does not apply retroactively on changing the proofing language of what you have written.
It is absolutely irrelevant and thoroughly counter-productive to state that word is not a DTP programme.

Paul Osborn
Uithoorn, The Netherlands

2014-05-19 08:02:18

Thomas Redd

I seem to be missing my morning read. Just checking to be sure I receive the daily comments. I love your site and the things I can learn here. Thanks for a wonderful service.

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