Two Hidden Features in Microsoft Word

A quick tip today about nonbreaking spaces and optional hyphens in Microsoft Word.

Let’s jump in.

Nonbreaking spaces

A nonbreaking space tells Word not to put a line break between a given two words.

For example, the following example looks a little funny, because the person’s name is split over a line break:

I want to introduce you to my friend, Carlos Juan
del Fuego, from Idaho.

Word doesn’t know that “Carlos Juan” and “del Fuego” have a relationship to each other, but if you prefer that those words stay together, add a nonbreaking space between each one.

Then, Word will consider the words as one long word, always to be kept on the same line of text.

To add a nonbreaking space in Word for Mac, put your cursor after the first word in the phrase you want to keep together, then hold the option key as you press the space bar. Then type the next word, and so on. [In Word for Windows, hold the CTRL and SHIFT keys as you press the space bar.]

Optional hyphens

Optional hyphens are similar to nonbreaking spaces, in that they control how Word handles things at a line break.

Usually, at the end of a line, Word will take the next word you type and move it down one line. But maybe you want to split a word up by hyphenating it.

For example:

You might decide that split-
ting the word “splitting” is ok.

Word will know that if, and only if, the word “splitting” occurs at a line break, it should add a hyphen where you indicated, then drop the rest  of the word to the next line.

To add an optional hyphen in Word for Mac, put your cursor at the spot in the word where you want a hyphen, then hold the Command key as you press the hyphen key. [In Word for Windows, hold the CTRL key as you press the hyphen key.]

Checking your work

The nonbreaking space and optional hyphen are “invisible” characters. The hyphen only shows up when it’s needed, and the nonbreaking space never appears at all. So how do you know you’ve added them?

The quickest way in Word 2011 is to click the “Show all nonprinting characters” button on the standard Word toolbar (it looks like a paragraph symbol). All sorts of stuff will appear on your page, like paragraph marks, a dot for each space, and, yes, nonbreaking spaces and optional hyphens.

These symbols won’t print; they just help you see what you’re working with.

A nonbreaking space is a tiny character that looks like this:

An optional hyphen looks like this:

So what do you think? Do you (or would you) ever use these features? Or are they bloated fluff that get in the way?


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