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: Adding an Optional Break.

Adding an Optional Break

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated September 14, 2013)

12

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, and 2013. 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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What is one less than 4?

2017-01-09 18:04:42

Randy Cook

Not solution, but I suggest testing a different shortcut such as <alt>+; (alt+semicolon) and with different fonts. Arial is usually good for testing.

Although a no-width optional break is a Unicode character (zero-width non-joiner), I think it is a special case as I believe it was available in old Word before Word supported Unicode. It may be dependent upon the font you are using. It does not behave like other Unicode characters.


2017-01-06 17:22:15

Mohsen Amiri

Hi

'No-width optianl break' is used in languages like Persian and Arabia. I used to Word 2013 on Windows 7 and 8.1 and it did normally. but after updating Windows to 10 and installing Word 2013, it did work wrongly. I mean I assigned 'No-width optianl break' function to Ctrl+Space key. But what it did after pressing was changing the font to another font (like Courir) and did not do the assigned function ('No-width optianl break').

By the way I remove ResetChar function of this key.

What is your idea about this problem?

If it is needed, I can attach a document here.

Thank you.


2016-05-13 06:15:33

Ken Endacott

The Find code to search for No-Width Optional Break characters is ^o

However, because the character does not display, the cursor disappears and nothing is highlighted.

Find ^o and Replace blank will remove the optional break characters.

Find does some interesting things. For example if a document contains several instances of the word 'command' then Find 'command' will find all occurrences whether or not the words include optional breaks. However Find 'com^omand' will only find words with an optional break between the two m characters.


2016-05-12 06:39:58

Wayne Knight

How can I convert old ami pro (.sam) or wordpro (.lwp) files to word 16?


2015-12-02 19:40:30

Phil Daniels

Windows, Word 2010

How can I search for the No-Width Optional Break character - it doesn't appear to be in the Special list.


2013-10-08 12:08:52

Randy Cook

Word Mac 2011: Enabling OS X (Lion) Unicode keyboard entry: System Preferences > Language & Text > Input Sources:
- enable Keyboard & Character Views.
- enable Unicode (as if it were one of the languages like English or Greek).
- enable Show Input menu in menu bar.
- Then, from the new menu bar icon, choose Unicode.
Now you should be able to hold <option> while typing 200b for a no-width space (which can function as a optional space). Try it with plain Arial. The no-width space is visible when showing formatting marks. That space can also be entered in in TextEdit. FYI, Arial Unicode MS is in both my Word 2011 Mac installations as seen in my Font Book (font folder equivalent). You can find other space codes in code chart 2000 at Unicode.org.
Sorry, I didn't realize the above setup was needed for Mac Unicode keyboard entry; I mostly use Word 2007 for Windows.
If you really don't like Word 2011 Mac, I also run Windows 7 and Word 2007 on Macs hardware using Bootcamp -- works fine.


2013-09-18 11:52:21

Lori Stepp

Does this feature exist on Word 2011 for Mac?


2013-09-17 11:41:50

Lucas Hutton

For Randy Cook: Thanks for that tip. I tried that technique this morning, first with Word for Mac (2011) and then with TextEdit. Word 2011 does not offer the Arial Unicode font—no doubt another money-saving limitation in the Mac version. I could not duplicate the Unicode approach with other fonts. I switched to TextEdit and found Arial Unicode MS (for "Microsoft," I suppose?), but again I could not get the code to work. What I get is "200∫"—not what I expected. Which brings up another question: What should I expect to see after I've applied the Unicode character? What have I overlooked?


2013-09-16 18:48:25

Randy Cook

For Lucas H., on Word 2011 (Mac), try placing the cursor after the slash and entering a zero-width space character: hold the option key and type the hexidecimal number 200B. It allowed a line to break but was not visible with formatting symbols hidden. I was using the Arial Unicode font to test this. It may not be in all fonts. In OS X, there is also a "Unicode Hex Input" feature that may not be visible by default. The Unicode people publish tables that are useful for both Mac and Windows that can be used with Word and other applications to look find unusual characters (again, they may not be in all fonts).


2013-09-16 06:01:40

Duncan

Interesting - and I know from past experience very useful. I once used word-processor software that made this much easier to find and with a better name (which I've now forgotten). I think it must have been AmiPro or WordPerfect. Sadly typical of MS to bury it so deep - the other software as I recall has it as a modifier key + return (eg Shift-Return)


2013-09-14 20:50:45

Lucas Hutton

I've long been fascinated by these obscure, hidden tricks in MS-Word, and I look for ways to use them. That's why I'm disappointed to find that the No-Width Optional Break is not available to people who use Word 2011 (the version for the Mac). I'm finding out that the Mac version lacks a lot of the refinements found in the PC versions. Another example: Try creating a mailing label with Tools >> Labels. You'll find the list of built-in Avery labels is quite robust in the PC version, but is very short in the Mac version.


2013-09-14 09:36:10

Surendera M. Bhanot

Very good tip. I have tried it and ut works. I have even assigned Ctrl+Num 3 as its shortcut. Now I do not need to go to Insert>Symbols>More Symbols>Special Chacter (Tab)>No-width Optional Break. Just placing the cursor 9where I need to insert it) and press Ctrl+Num 3. That's all.


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