Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 2007, 2010, 2013, and 2016. 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

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated September 18, 2019)


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 are not 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.

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, and 2016. 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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What is 9 - 8?

2017-12-10 17:11:49

Ken Endacott

Isobel. While is would be possible to exclude lower case a and upper case I from the search, these should be included because they might be errors, for example Buddh a instead of Buddha.

On a large document the quickest way to identify errors is to highlight single letter words using the second of my suggested Find and Replace commands then eyeball the document. It is surprising how quick and effective it is.

Another difficult error to find is where a proper noun is spelt in two different ways with only one character different. The technique is to use a macro to count and sort all the spelling errors then eyeball the results. Two different spellings will be adjacent to one another, for example:

Wungirilwil 2
Wungurilwil 6

After using all the tools in the armory to detect errors then comes the hard part. Reading every word in the document.

2017-12-10 14:08:00

Isabel Leonard

Kim was "disappointed" because using my tip still requires a human proofread. It had never occurred to me before that anyone would even dream of sending a document out before a careful proofread. Such an awakening!

Ken: I like your idea (and thank you for pointing out that Wildcards must be checked first) but a tiny correction: the search string should be <{b-z,A-Z]> to exclude the frequently occurring lower-case "a".

2017-12-09 07:30:22

Isabel Leonard

It's possible to find single characters by using Wildcards. With Wildcards turned on, type a space followed by [b-z] followed by another space. This will find all the lower-case single characters in the alphabet except for "a". It will not find capital I. All this is what we want it to do.

If the single character is immediately followed by a punctuation mark, however, it will escape the search. There may be "Wildcardese" that can be written for that, but I don't know how and it's probably not worth the trouble.

2017-12-09 05:40:03


I'm sorry to say that I found this a rather disappointing tip.
If you are conscientious, you are probably going to proofread your document anyway. But no amount of proofreading can guarantee that all mistakes will be caught.
I was hoping you would discuss using wildcards for search and replace instead. Like typing ^w^?^w in the search field to find all single letters, for instance. Obviously, it would catch a's and I's unnecessarily, but it's still less time-consuming and more reliable than proofreading the entire document.

2017-12-09 05:15:07

Ken Endacott

Find & Replace can find single letter words and you can step through and correct those that need correction. The Find string is:
"Use Wildcards" must be ticked for this to work.

Another approach is to highlight all single letter words with:
Find string:
Replace string:
and select Format > Highlight. Before running you need to select a highlight color in the Font group in the Home banner.
After the corrections have been made remove highlighting by selecting the whole document and clicking No Color.

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