Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 2007 and 2010. 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: Document Shows as 'In Use' by Another User.

Document Shows as 'In Use' by Another User

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated November 16, 2015)


What would you do if you started a new session with Word, and then went to open a document, only to see a message stating that the document you want to open is "locked for editing by another user?" Word gives you the option to open a read-only version of the document, but you want to edit the real document. What do you do?

To understand what happened, it is helpful to understand a little of how Word (all current versions except Word 97) opens documents. When you open a document, Word creates what is known as an owner file for the document. This file is created in the same folder as the document you are opening. Its name consists of a tilde (~) followed by a dollar sign ($) and then the rest of the file name of the document you are opening. For instance, if you try to open a document named BigBudget.doc, then Word creates an owner file with the name ~$gBudget.doc.

The owner file is a way for Word to realize who has the document open at the current time. It is a temporary file (it is deleted when you close the document) that holds the login name of the person that opened the document.

This is where the confusion comes in. If you see the error message described at the beginning of this tip, it means that one of three conditions exists:

  • Word was shut down improperly and the owner file could not be deleted. For instance, the power to your machine was interrupted for some reason.
  • The document is accessible on a network and a different user has the document open.
  • A second instance of Word is running, and the document is open in that copy of Word.

If you are sure that there is no other user accessing the file, and you don't have it open in another copy of Word, then you can follow these steps so you can open the file normally:

  1. Get out of Word and restart your system. (This flushes out any errant processes that may be "stuck" in memory.)
  2. Using Windows Explorer, display the folder that contains the document you tried to open.
  3. If you see an owner file in the folder (named according to the format previously described), delete it.
  4. You should now be able to start Word and successfully open the document.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (11185) applies to Microsoft Word 2007 and 2010. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Word here: Document Shows as 'In Use' by Another User.

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. ...


Using Continued Lines

You can create a special header and footer page numbering scheme by using nested fields. This tip shows an example of how you ...

Discover More

Protecting a Graphic

Need to make sure that someone cannot delete a graphic in a worksheet? The ability to protect the graphic depends on where ...

Discover More

Working with Other People's Files

When you get files from other people, you may want a quick way to apply your formatting to their text. Provided that the ...

Discover More

Comprehensive VBA Guide Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) is the language used for writing macros in all Office programs. This complete guide shows both professionals and novices how to master VBA in order to customize the entire Office suite for their needs. Check out Mastering VBA for Office 2010 today!

More WordTips (ribbon)

Saving Documents as Read-Only by Default

When you save your documents, you can specify that they be saved in a "read-only" format so that they cannot be changed as ...

Discover More

Searching for a Document

When switching from one version of Word to another it can be confusing to figure out where all the commands and features are ...

Discover More

Understanding Background Saving

Word has the capability to save your work, in the background, while you continue to edit your documents. This tip explains ...

Discover More

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in WordTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

View most recent newsletter.


If you would like to add an image to your comment (not an avatar, but an image to help in making the point of your comment), include the characters [{fig}] in your comment text. You’ll be prompted to upload your image when you submit the comment. Maximum image size is 6Mpixels. Images larger than 600px wide or 1000px tall will be reduced. Up to three images may be included in a comment. All images are subject to review. Commenting privileges may be curtailed if inappropriate images are posted.

What is four less than 6?

2016-11-02 12:12:16


Our whole department is getting this message. There is no owner file and we restart the PCs every night. Looked in Task manager for another instance of Winwrd.exe but there wasn't one. I don't know what else to try??

2016-10-18 08:50:42


Word Viewer is one possible cause.
I have tested this thoroughly.

Ex. user A has read rights to a folder with a document and user B has write rights. If user A has word viewer and opens the document when user B hasn't got it open, user B will get a prompt "Locked by another user".
If user A instead has an ordinary Word-installation this problem won't occur and for user A it will say "read-only" at the top of the window.

I have tested this with different accounts, computers and documents and i can reproduce it 100% of the times.

Word viewer is the enemy.
With compatibility pack i should add. User B has Word 2010. goes for both *.doc and *.docx, probably Excel viewer too.

2015-10-16 17:49:24

Robin Berry

In folder properties, there was a check box for "Read Only", that for some reason, was checked. Unchecked the box, all files got updated, and now I can open all of my documents.

2015-03-09 14:10:47

John C

When it is said to, "restart your system" that could mean your network, rather than just your single workstation. Been there, done this...

2015-02-18 12:10:26


I did everything above. There is no owner file in the folder (and yes, I told it to show hidden files.) Our problem is that not only was word shut down improperly, but it was open when a hard drive crashed. Help - we really need this file.

2014-10-26 12:46:18

Rick G.

I'm surprised you left this important part out out!...
If you don't have "Show Hidden Files" selected in the Folder options, Windows Explorer will not show you the owner files.

2012-01-09 09:09:17


Yes. How to handle what goes wrong with Word is typically lacking in fora treating "how to's." Great tip.

2012-01-07 19:37:48


Wonderful tip, I always wanted to know what the file name with tilde means and this tip clears up perfectly.

This Site

Got a version of Word that uses the ribbon interface (Word 2007 or later)? This site is for you! If you use an earlier version of Word, visit our WordTips site focusing on the menu interface.

Newest Tips

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in WordTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

(Your e-mail address is not shared with anyone, ever.)

View the most recent newsletter.