Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Word in Microsoft 365, and 2021. 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: Using Optional Hyphens.

Using Optional Hyphens

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated January 13, 2024)
This tip applies to Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Word in Microsoft 365, and 2021


Hyphens are often used to split words that appear at the end of a line, allowing the first part of a word to appear at the end of the line and the rest of the word to appear at the beginning of the next line. Word includes tools that allow you to hyphenate your document, as describe in other WordTips.

An optional hyphen is a special character that Word allows you to insert in your document. For instance, you can put an optional hyphen in a word at a normal hyphenation point. Through the course of editing your document, if the word falls at the end of a line, it will be hyphenated as you direct. If the word does not fall at the end of a line, the hyphen is not used and the word remains unhyphenated.

Optional hyphens are created by pressing Ctrl+- (Ctrl and the hyphen or dash key). Word typically doesn't display optional hyphens unless it appears at the end of a line, as described above. If you want to see all your optional hyphens, regardless of their position in a document, follow these steps:

  1. Display the Word Options dialog box. (In Word 2007 click the Office button and then click Word Options. In Word 2010 and later versions display the File tab of the ribbon and then click Options.)
  2. Click Display at the left side of the dialog box. (See Figure 1.)
  3. Figure 1. The Display options of the Word Options dialog box.

  4. Make sure the Optional Hyphens check box is selected.
  5. Click on 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 (11921) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Word in Microsoft 365, and 2021. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Word here: Using Optional Hyphens.

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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