Replacing the Space between the Last Two Words of Each Paragraph

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated October 27, 2018)

Lisa needs a way to find the last two words in all the paragraphs of a document and replace the space between those words with a non-breaking space. She wonders if this is possible using Find and Replace.

The easiest way to do this without using a macro is to rely on the wildcard capabilities of Find and Replace. The key to doing this is to remember that you don't really need to identify the last two words in what you find—you only need to identify the last word, with its preceding space. Follow these steps:

  1. Press Ctrl+H. Word displays the Replace tab of the Find and Replace dialog box.
  2. Click the More button, if it is visible. (See Figure 1.)
  3. Figure 1. The Replace tab of the Find and Replace dialog box.

  4. Select the Use Wildcards check box.
  5. In the Find What box, enter this: ( )([0-9A-Za-z~-]{1,})([.\!\?\:])(^13)
  6. In the Replace With box, enter this: ^s\2\3\4
  7. Click Replace All.

How this actually works may take just a bit of explaining. The trick here is what you are searching for, specified in step 4. Each element being searched for is surrounded by (parentheses), so it is easy to pick them out and to refer to them in the Replace With box (step 5). The four elements in the Find What box (again, surrounded by parentheses) are as follow:

  1. ( )
  2. ([0-9A-Za-z~-]{1,})
  3. ([.\!\?\:])
  4. (^13)

The first element is a single space. The second is any number of digits, letters, or dashes. (It is the last part of this element—{1,}—that specifies there can be any number of digits, letters, or dashes.) This is the element that specifies the word at the end of the paragraph, and it includes the possibility of the word containing dashes so that compound words are treated as a single word. The third element is any of the punctuation marks shown, and the fourth element is the actual end-of-paragraph marker.

The Replace With specification (step 5) simply replaces the first element (the space) with a non-breaking space, and then puts the second, third, and fourth elements back into place.

It should be noted that there are a couple of scenarios in which this Find and Replace approach will not work. First, it won't work if your paragraph has trailing spaces, between the punctuation mark and the end-of-paragraph marker. You can use Find and Replace to get rid of these throughout your document before doing the above Find and Replace.

The second situation where it won't work is if your paragraph ends with compound punctuation, such as a period followed by a quote mark or a quote mark followed by a colon. The wildcard search expects there to be only a single punctuation mark at the end of the paragraph, and it must be one of the four punctuation marks specified.

The third situation where it won't work is if there is some sort of punctuation in the final word of the paragraph. For instance, if the final word is actually a number such as 1,234 then the inclusion of the comma will stop the match from occurring. This could be dealt with by including the comma in the second element being searched for, but the number of times this might happen seemed miniscule enough that I didn't allow for it in the steps above.

If you prefer a macro-based approach to the substitution, you might consider using the following macro:

Sub LastTwo()
    Dim p As Paragraph
    Dim J As Integer
    Dim K As Integer
    Dim sTemp As String

    For Each p In ActiveDocument.Paragraphs
        J = p.Range.Words.Count
        For K = J To 1 Step -1
            sTemp = p.Range.Words(K)
            If Right(sTemp, 1) = " " Then
                p.Range.Words(K) = RTrim(sTemp) & Chr(160)
                K = 1
            End If
        Next K
    Next p
End Sub

The macro steps through each paragraph of your document and then steps backwards through the words in the paragraphs. It looks for the first word that contains a trailing space, and then replaces that space with a non-breaking space.

There is one interesting thing about this macro—it may not work as expected on all systems. If, after running it, you don't get a non-breaking space but instead see a small "cross" between the last two words, then simply replace Chr(160) in the code with Chr(202). It would be much easier if Word included a defined enumeration for a non-breaking space, but it doesn't. Instead, you need to rely on the ASCII code for a non-breaking space, which doesn't appear to be the same on all systems.


If you would like to know how to use the macros described on this page (or on any other page on the WordTips sites), I've prepared a special page that includes helpful information. Click here to open that special page in a new browser tab.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (13577) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Word in Office 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. ...


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