Underlining a Number in a Numbered List

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated December 31, 2018)


Tracy is trying to underline one number in a numbered list (just the number). She selects the paragraph mark as she used to do in earlier versions of Word and, while she can change the formatting of the number to be bold, italicized, a specific color, superscript, subscript, etc., the number won't show as underlined even though it shows as underlined in the Font dialog box.

This is, indeed, a change in Word. (Whether it is a bug or not depends on whether the earlier behavior was intended by Microsoft or not; we may never know.) In earlier versions of the program (earlier than at least Word 2007) you could select the paragraph mark at the end of a numbered list item and apply just about any formatting you wanted, including underlining. This formatting would be applied to both the paragraph mark and the automatic number at the beginning of the list item. It would only be applied to the single list item's number, not to all numbers in the list, and not to any text within the list item itself.

In the ribbon-based versions of Word you can go through the same steps and get the same result with the exception of underling—even though the underlining could be applied to the paragraph mark and would show as applied on the Home tab of the ribbon, the underlining would not show up on either the paragraph mark or the number for that list item.

Interestingly, you can select the number itself (go to the beginning of the list item and press the Left-Arrow key) and apply the formatting and underling. Anything you apply is applied, automatically, to all the item numbers in the numbered list, not to the single one selected. This is the same behavior you see if you define a new numbered list and choose, in the definition, to underline the number.

Thus, it appears in at least the modern versions of Word that you cannot underline a single item number in a numbered list, even if you can affect other formatting changes for that single number.

The only way around this (that I've been able to determine) is to not use Word's automatic numbering and, instead, rely upon SEQ fields to do your numbering. In that approach, each list item's number can be formatted independingly from other numbers.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (13028) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, and 2013.

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 seven more than 1?

2014-04-10 20:11:30

Richard Ingram

jj has offered a great solution, and it's much simpler than the other two workarounds from Rob and me. Thank you!

2014-04-09 09:23:08


To underline just one number in a numbered list why not just: Insert>Shapes select the line?

2014-03-24 07:27:19

Richard Ingram

I like Rob's suggestion better than mine. It's great to see how people think about these issues and come up with creative workarounds. Thanks!

2014-03-23 19:14:04


Another workaround:
1. Create the numbered list.
2. Select the list and cut.
3. Paste, selecting the "Keep text only (T)" option [this is the bold capital A in the clipboard icon].
4. The list now appears with the numbers as text. You may need to adjust the paragraph formatting to retain a hanging indent. Numbers can be selected and formatted like any other text. However, you have lost the ability to have a dynamically-numbered list if you need to add items.

2014-03-23 01:03:12

Steve Furse

Thank you Richard.

In addition, when I tried your tip, I found that using Print Layout view worked better than my usual Web Layout view.

2014-03-22 10:17:12

Richard Ingram

Here's a workaround to underline an individual number in a numbered list, for those times you really need to be able to do that...
1. Create a numbered list.
2. Insert a text box with no fill and no outline.
3. Type in an underscore character.
4. Set the box to wrap behind text.
5. Position the text box over the number so the underscore is where you want it to be.

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