Underlining Cells, Not Space Between Cells

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated October 31, 2020)
This tip applies to Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Word in Microsoft 365


1

Goldie wants to know if there is a way to underline table cells but not underline the spacing between cells. This would affect a break in the underlining between cells and not have just one continuous line across all the cells. (Goldie is referring to the actual cells here, not the words within the cells.) She added .05 spacing between the cells because she thought this would do it, but instead it just increased the length of the underlining for each cell so that the lines meet and create on big line.

The key to successfully doing this is to remember that there is a difference between cell borders and borders applied to contents within a cell. This means that there are multiple ways you can go about doing the formatting. Assuming you already have a table, follow these steps to see one way:

  1. Place the insertion point somewhere within the table.
  2. Display the Layout tab of the ribbon. (This tab is available only when you've completed step 1.)
  3. Click the Select tool (in the Table group) and then choose Select Table. Word selects the entire table.
  4. Display the Table Design or Design (depending on your version of Word) tab of the ribbon.
  5. Click the Borders tool (in the Borders or Table Styles group, again depending on your version of Word) and then choose No Border. This makes sure that there are no borders on any of the cells in the table.
  6. Click the Borders tool again, but this time choose Borders and Shading (the last option available in the drop-down list). Word displays the Borders and Shading dialog box.
  7. Make sure the Borders tab is selected. (See Figure 1.)
  8. Figure 1. The Borders tab of the Borders and Shading dialog box.

  9. Using the Apply To drop-down list, choose Paragraph.
  10. Click the None preset at the upper-left corner of the dialog box.
  11. Click a line style from the Style list.
  12. In the Preview area, click the Bottom button or click at the bottom of the preview itself.
  13. Click OK.

Word applies a bottom border the width of the text area within each cell. If you later adjust the cell margins (as Goldie did), the width of the text within the cell changes, as does the width of the border.

For simple tables, this approach works great. The problem occurs when you have differing amounts of text in the cells in the table. Since the border always appears at the bottom of the text, this can lead to some funky results. (See Figure 2.)

Figure 2. Applying a bottom border to the paragraphs within a cell.

Of course, you could get around this funkiness a bit by formatting the cell contents so that they all are vertically aligned to the bottom of each cell. Besides moving all the text to the bottom of the cell (vertically), this also moves all the lines down to the bottom of each cell.

If you do a bit of inspecting in the Borders and Shading dialog box, you'll see that borders can be applied to Text, Paragraph, Cell, or Table. The Paragraph option is the only one that behaves as described so far. Further, it is the only one that responds to changes in the cell margins.

If, instead, you want the actual border to apply to the cells themselves, then the only way we've discovered to get the desired effect is to add "spacer columns" between your data columns. These columns can be very thin, but the idea is that they wouldn't contain any information at all—you would just use them to provide a buffer area between columns that would otherwise be abutting. You can then add bottom borders to all the cells in the table but remove them from the cells in the spacer columns.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (13179) 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. ...

MORE FROM ALLEN

Breaking Lines in E-mail

If you are creating an e-mail in Word or are creating text that you will paste into an e-mail document, you may want to ...

Discover More

Only Inline Figures Can be Seen and Printed

Insert a graphic into a document and you expect to be able to see it. What do you do if it isn't displayed, however? Here ...

Discover More

Ensuring Conditional Formatting and Data Validation is Copied

If you use an Excel worksheet for entering data (a quite common task, actually), then you need to be concerned with how ...

Discover More

Create Custom Apps with VBA! Discover how to extend the capabilities of Office 2013 (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and Access) with VBA programming, using it for writing macros, automating Office applications, and creating custom applications. Check out Mastering VBA for Office 2013 today!

More WordTips (ribbon)

Heading Changes for Multi-page Tables

When you have a long table that extends over multiple pages, Word allows you to specify one or more rows to be repeated ...

Discover More

Right Aligning a Table Column with an Indent

Word allows you to get a bit fancy in formatting the alignment of your tables. In this tip, you discover how to enter ...

Discover More

Copying Fill Color in a Table

You may spend some time getting the color in a portion of a table just right, only to be faced with the task of copying ...

Discover More
Subscribe

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in WordTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

View most recent newsletter.

Comments

If you would like to add an image to your comment (not an avatar, but an image to help in making the point of your comment), include the characters [{fig}] (all 7 characters, in the sequence shown) in your comment text. You’ll be prompted to upload your image when you submit the comment. Maximum image size is 6Mpixels. Images larger than 600px wide or 1000px tall will be reduced. Up to three images may be included in a comment. All images are subject to review. Commenting privileges may be curtailed if inappropriate images are posted.

What is seven minus 7?

2021-06-17 18:57:45

Elena

Thank you Thank you Thank you!! This was exactly what I was trying to do by myself for 5 hours!


This Site

Got a version of Word that uses the ribbon interface (Word 2007 or later)? This site is for you! If you use an earlier version of Word, visit our WordTips site focusing on the menu interface.

Videos
Subscribe

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in WordTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

(Your e-mail address is not shared with anyone, ever.)

View the most recent newsletter.