Preventing the Insertion of Non-Breaking Spaces

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated November 27, 2021)
This tip applies to Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Word in Microsoft 365


When Ray copies text into a Word document or even among Word documents, often some of the spaces are changed to non-breaking spaces, seemingly at random. These are visible on the screen as small open circles when non-printing characters are displayed, but they are otherwise undetectable. Ray wonders how he can avoid or prevent this random conversion to non-breaking spaces.

Typically this happens when copying information that originated on the Internet. That's because in formatting text for display on a web page, content creators will use non-breaking spaces to separate many words. When you paste that content into a Word document (or copy it from a Word document in which it was previously pasted), they remain in the text, as Ray discovered.

If you want to not have these appear in your document, one easy way is to paste the content as plain text. (Easiest way: Click the down-arrow next to the Paste tool on the Home tab of the ribbon and choose the Keep Text Only option.) This will get rid of the non-breaking spaces, replacing them with regular spaces, but it will also get rid of any formatting in whatever you are pasting.

If you want to get rid of non-breaking spaces already in the document, then using Find and Replace is the easiest way:

  1. Press Ctrl+H. Word displays the Replace tab of the Find and Replace dialog box.
  2. In the Find What box, enter a single space.
  3. In the Replace With box, enter a single space. (Yes, this means you are replacing spaces with spaces.)
  4. Click on Replace All.
  5. Close the Find and Replace dialog box.

Note in step 2 that you are specifying you want to search for spaces. This works because Word considers a non-breaking space the same as a regular space when doing its matching. If you prefer to just search for non-breaking spaces, you can, in step 2, type Ctrl+Shift+Spacebar, which inserts a non-breaking space character (^s) in the Find What box.

If you prefer a macro-based solution, you can use this one:

Sub ReplaceNBS()
    With Selection.Find
        .Text = "^s"
        .Replacement.Text = " "
        .Forward = True
        .Wrap = wdFindContinue
        .Format = False
        .MatchCase = False
        .MatchWholeWord = False
        .MatchWildcards = False
        .MatchSoundsLike = False
        .MatchAllWordForms = False
    End With
    Selection.Find.Execute Replace:=wdReplaceAll
End Sub

The macro automates the Find and Replace technique already described, replacing all non-breaking spaces with regular spaces. Assign it to a shortcut key or the Quick Access Toolbar, and you can quickly do the desired replacements.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (11904) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Word in Microsoft 365.

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 9 + 3?

2021-11-30 11:49:16

Ellen Wynkoop

Woohoo! That's a good one. I use the find/replace feature regularly, but I never knew that searching for a single space, and replacing it with the same, would remove the non-breaking spaces. That made my day, Allen. Thanks. No more bubbles!

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