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: Catching Single-Letter Spelling Errors.

Catching Single-Letter Spelling Errors

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated March 23, 2024)
This tip applies to Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Word in Microsoft 365, and 2021


If you accidentally leave a single letter on its own in a sentence, spell check won't catch the single letter as a spelling error. For instance, if you type "route r" instead of "router," Word won't flag the stand-alone "r" as an error. This can be frustrating to some people, and it brings up the question of why those maverick single letters aren't caught.

Actually, the answer as to why is pretty simple: there are bona fide reasons why your document may contain single letters and those not be considered spelling errors. Some of the instances are obvious—letters like "a" and "I" are valid words in their own rights. However, letters—a through z—are regularly used as numbering for items and for lists. It's sad, but Word can't differentiate between "r" used when numbering a list and "r" inappropriately trailing in "route r."

So what is a person to do? Perhaps the best solution is to analyze how you type. If you routinely insert an extra space in some words (for instance, you regularly type "th e" instead of "the" or "route r" instead of "router"), then you might want to create an AutoCorrect entry that will recognize the error and fix it for you as you type. You'll want to be careful, though. If you replace all instances of "route r" with "router," you cause problems if you really meant to type "route R" as a street designation.

You could also, if desired, use Find and Replace to step through all of the single-letter words in a document. You can do that by following these steps to set up the search:

  1. Press Ctrl+H. Word displays the Replace tab of the Find and Replace dialog box.
  2. Make sure the Find tab of the dialog box is displayed.
  3. Click the More button, if it is available. Word expands the Find and Replace dialog box. (See Figure 1.)
  4. Figure 1. The expanded Find and Replace dialog box.

  5. Make sure the Use Wildcards check box is selected.
  6. Enter the following in the Find What box: <[a-z,A-Z]>
  7. Make sure the Find All Items Found In checkbox is not selected.

Once set up in this manner, you can use Find Next (repeatedly) to step through each single-letter word and figure out if it is correct or not. (By the way, in step X you could search for "<[b-z,B-Z]>" (without the quote marks) if you feel confident that you haven't misused "a" or "A" in a single-word fashion.)

Perhaps the best tip, however, may be to make sure you go back and proofread your entire document when you are done. Don't rely on what Word may underline and think those are the only errors; chances are good that they are not. You'll only catch your errors as you read and re-read your 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 (12464) 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: Catching Single-Letter Spelling Errors.

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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