Adjusting Column Widths on Copied Tables

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated July 8, 2023)
This tip applies to Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Word in Microsoft 365, and 2021


When Cynthia copies tables from one document to another, sometimes the tables are not sized properly when pasted. When she then tries to size them, they spread oddly. For example, if she grabs and moves the right side of the table to expand it to the right margin, the left side also expands in the same incremental amount. Cynthia wonders why this occurs and how she can adjust column widths independently when resizing the tables.

There could be several reasons why this is happening. The first reason could simply be that the table is centered on the page. If it is, then dragging the right border gives the illusion that the left border is moving as well. (It isn't really resizing, but Word keeps the table centered.) The solution to this is to "uncenter" the table before you do your column resizing:

  1. Position the insertion point within the table.
  2. Display the Layout tab of the ribbon (the one that becomes available when you perform step 1).
  3. Near the left side of the ribbon, click the Properties tool. Word displays the Table Properties dialog box; the Table tab should be displayed. (See Figure 1.)
  4. Figure 1. The Table tab of the Table Properties dialog box.

  5. In the Alignment area, click the Left option.
  6. Click OK. Word closes the Table Properties dialog box and your table is now left-aligned on the page.

A this point you can click and drag the right border of the table and it won't appear that the left border is moving. Once you are done adjusting the column widths by dragging borders, you can again change the table alignment, if desired, by repeating the above steps and choosing your desired alignment in step 4.

If that doesn't do it for you, display the Table Properties dialog box again (using the steps previously outlined) and clear the Preferred Width check box. This check box, when selected, results in Word trying to keep the table to the specified width, which means that as you adjust one column width, it will automatically adjust the others to maintain that overall width. Clear the check box, and Word won't automatically adjust the column widths in the table.

Finally, if the problem persists, it could be because the tables you are copying and pasting are more complex than they may appear. For instance, if you have tables within your table, then the properties of the interior tables can affect the behavior of the containing tables. You'll want to place the insertion point within the interior tables, one at a time, and adjust the table properties as described above. Then, do the same with the outer, containing table.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (13899) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Word in Microsoft 365, and 2021.

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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