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 an Optional Break.

Adding an Optional Break

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated August 3, 2019)

9

One of the special characters available in Word is the no-width optional break. This character is primarily intended for use in Asiatic languages but can be of use to those of us working in English. Consider the following sentence: The best solution is to write/revise/reissue documents. In this case, you've created a very long word consisting of three individual words separated by slashes. As the artificially long word reaches the end of a line, Word treats it as a single word and will move the entire thing to the next line, if wrapping is necessary.

One way around this problem is to insert a no-width optional break after each slash:

  1. Position the insertion point right after the slash.
  2. Display the Insert tab of the ribbon.
  3. Click Symbol, in the Symbols group, and then click More Symbols. Word displays the Symbol dialog box. (See Figure 1.)
  4. Figure 1. The Symbol dialog box.

  5. On the Special Characters tab, choose No-Width Optional Break. (You will need to scroll down in the list of characters to find this option.)
  6. Click Insert.
  7. Click Close.

What you see on the screen when you insert the no-width optional break depends on how you have configured your system. If you have non-printing characters hidden, then you won't see a thing, but the character is still there. (You can detect it by moving across the character position by using the left or right arrow keys.) If you have non-printing characters visible on the screen (Word Options | Display | Show All Formatting Marks), then the character shows up as a small, gray double-wall box.

As an interesting side note, you must choose the Show All Formatting Marks on the Display options. If you instead choose the individual character options (Tab Characters, Spaces, Paragraph Marks, Hidden Text, and Optional Hyphens), the no-width optional break still won't be visible—you must choose All.

Now, as your artificially long word approaches the end of the line, Word wraps the text based on the position of the no-width optional break. Since the character has no width, the result is that it appears like the word wraps right after the slash.

For grammatical purists in the audience, I know that the absolute best solution is to do away with slashes between words. For instance, it would be better to say, "The best solution is to write, revise, or reissue documents." Unfortunately, not all clients want the grammatically correct solution, or they have a penchant for slashes. In that case, the no-width optional break can be very handy.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (11555) 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 an Optional Break.

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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Comments

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 5 - 3?

2020-08-24 09:34:06

Andrew

I do this all the time for pathnames, but there are two issues I've had to learn to deal with:

First, make sure you add the no-width optional break <b>after</b> the pathname has been made active (converted to a hyperlink), otherwise it will become part of the link address (and not just the display text) and it will not resolve to the correct location when clicked.

Second, sometimes--more than occasionally but not regularly--the no-width optional break somehow migrates from the displayed text to the link address, making it unresolvable. I have yet to figure out when or why, but it is <b>annoying</b>.

Andy.


2020-08-21 15:06:10

Laura D

This tip is great for long URLs without hyphens in narrow table cells. I never knew there was a way to break them without adding an unwanted character. Thanks!


2020-07-06 12:46:39

Watt

No-Width Optional Break no longer has a character symbol when you Show All Formatting Marks (it used to). No-Width Non Break does. And no "super-hidden" character apparently exists; i.e., when Show All Formatting Marks is unchecked and you pass the cursor over the special character using the right or left arrow key, it does not pause for any break character. But No-Width Optional Break does still create the desired break effect.

I have MS Office 356 ProPlus v. 1908 (build 11929.20838 click-to-run).


2019-08-14 16:20:46

Kyle

This no-width optional break character would be handy for lines showing pathnames.


2019-08-05 19:50:07

Penny

If you are going to use this regularly, suggest you record a macro for it and then add the macro to your Quick Access Toolbar. Saves a great deal of time and is always there when you want it.


2019-08-05 10:52:49

Larry

It would be nice if you actually showed the figure containing the "No Break Space". Ideal would be with the "No Break Space" selected instead of the "Latin Small Letter E with Diaeresis"


2019-08-05 09:46:18

Mary

I've been wondering about this option for years. I used to do this in WordPerfect (I think) Ctrl-space. Thanks for the tip!


2019-08-04 16:18:15

Allan

I agree. For some reason on most of Allen's descriptive images he almost always has some other function checked rather than the one under discussion. Strange.
That said, I want to thank Allen for the tremendous good he does with these tips. I would be lost without seeing them every day.


2019-08-03 06:29:12

Timothy Rylatt

It would be more helpful if your screenshot of the Insert Symbol dialog displayed the relevant information.
(see Figure 1 below)

Figure 1. 


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