Format Painter Messes Up Ordinals

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated July 3, 2021)
This tip applies to Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Word in Microsoft 365


When Grant types ordinal numbers (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.), Word automatically superscripts the letters following the numbers. If he later uses Format Painter from somewhere in his document to "paint" a revised format to a paragraph containing the ordinals, Word removes the superscripting. Grant's intent in using the Format Painter is to update the paragraph indent, margins, tab positions, line spacings, etc. He wonders if there is some way for Format Painter to not change the ordinals or to easily format the ordinals again.

Microsoft gives absolutely no hard-and-fast guidelines for how Format Painter does its work, but there are a few gems we've been able to garner. The biggest gem for Grant's purposes is this: Don't select the paragraph you want to paint. From Grant's description, this is probably what he is doing:

  1. Select the paragraph to be used as the origin for the Format Painter. This is the paragraph that will be "copied from."
  2. Click the Format Painter.
  3. Select the paragraph to which the format should be copied.

Sounds simple, right? Except doing it this way copies all the character formatting as well as the paragraph formatting. Apparently, selecting text—even an entire paragraph—leads the Format Painter to believe you want to copy character formatting as well as the paragraph formatting. To get around this, follow these steps, instead:

  1. Place the insertion point in the paragraph to be used as the origin for the Format Painter. Don't select any text in the paragraph; just click once in the paragraph so the insertion point is there.
  2. Click the Format Painter.
  3. Click once in the paragraph to which you want the formatting applied.

That's it; the character formatting that was applied to the ordinals should remain undisturbed, along with any other explicitly applied character formatting in the paragraph.

A second way to copy just the paragraph formatting is one that has been used since the very earliest days of Word, before the Format Painter even existed. Follow these steps:

  1. Make sure that non-printing characters are displayed on screen. (If they are displayed, you should see a pilcrow—a backwards P—displayed at the end of each paragraph.)
  2. Select just the end-of-paragraph marker (that pilcrow character) from the source paragraph.
  3. Press Ctrl+C. The marker is now copied to the Clipboard.
  4. Select just the end-of-paragraph marker for the target paragraph.
  5. Press Ctrl+V. The paragraph formatting from the source paragraph is now copied to the target paragraph.

These steps work because that end-of-paragraph marker contains all of the paragraph formatting for whatever paragraph it belongs to. If you copy the marker, you copy the formatting. Pasting it as a replacement in a target paragraph replaces all the paragraph formatting.

Finally, no self-respecting tip about paragraph formatting would be complete without mentioning that you can save time and effort by using styles instead of copying and pasting formatting. If you create a paragraph style that is applied to your paragraphs, you can later change the style and all the paragraphs to which that style has been applied will be changed, automatically, to reflect the new style changes—without affecting any formatting done to individual characters such as the ordinals in Grant's paragraphs.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (13878) 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. ...


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What is one less than 8?

2021-07-03 10:39:12


The problem with Format painter is that it often gives unexpected results.
Assume that your source paragraph is plain text with just some bold words. If you place a cursor anywhere in the non-bold text and follow Allen's steps (first solution), it will work as described. However, if you place your cursor inside the bold text, then click the format Painter, then click on any word in the target paragraph, in addition to pasting paragraph format the clicked word will become bold.
This also happens with italic, italic bold, strikethrough, etc., and even highlight. If you happen to have a superscripted word in your source paragraph, and start with the cursor within it, the clicked word in the target will become superscripted, if you click inside superscripted ordinal number say 5674632nd, the whole number will become superscripted.
You can avoid the above complications by making sure to click between words in the target, or, easiest, click to the right of the end-of-paragraph marker. You can also avoid placing cursor in the source in any explicitly formatted font. Again, best to place the cursor just before the end-of-paragraph marker.
The situation gets more complicated if the source paragraph uses a paragraph style that also defines character attributes, but these were overwritten manually. The underlying invisible character format may overwrite the target paragraph.

All these are just arguments to use defined paragraph styles to format paragraphs rather than using format painter. Applying a paragraph style (not a linked one) generally retains all explicit character formatting, including superscripts. Make sure that when applying the style, you do not have text selected, just a cursor somewhere inside the target paragraph.

BTW, using the format painter as described by Allen in the first solution, assigns the source paragraph style to the target paragraph, but does not always paint all of the style attributes; generally, only the paragraph formatting is applied. Font attributes may or may not be applied depending on how the style was defined.

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