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?


10 Responses to “Two Hidden Features in Microsoft Word”

  1. May 16, 2011 at 8:46 am #

    Definitely useful, especially in software doc. Thanks!

  2. May 17, 2011 at 9:14 am #

    I use the non-breaking space all of the time in technical writing. I never hyphenate though – it is not really done in technical writing is it?

  3. May 17, 2011 at 11:23 pm #

    Thanks for the comments!

    Vanessa, my policy is never to say never, though I agree that it doesn’t come up much in tech comm.

  4. June 22, 2011 at 3:19 pm #

    It is just fluff for me. I haven’t used a non-breaking space or optional hyphen since high school. I do a lot of corporate correspondence, but no tech writing … Thanks for the shortcuts; now I know how to make them if the need ever arises!

    • June 24, 2011 at 6:37 pm #

      Thanks for commenting, Alyssa. Are there any tricks of the corporate correspondence trade you can share? I’d love to post them and be helpful to more people.

  5. March 19, 2012 at 4:12 pm #

    Thanks for the info. I’ve used CTRL SHIFT SPACE for years, but didn’t know the MAC version. I’m teaching Office 2011, so I love learning MAC keyboard shortcuts!

  6. June 18, 2012 at 8:12 am #

    The non-breaking space is very useful and I use it all the time. There is also a non-breaking hyphen that I use quite a bit when you want something like the word “non-breaking” to be kept together. You get it with “command+shift+-” on Word for Mac.

  7. August 20, 2013 at 12:52 pm #

    ZOMG! Thank you!
    I googled and found this — EXACTLY what I needed!
    MS Word Mac 2011 kept breaking my MAC addresses in my documents (and other hyphenated techno-jargon) so instead of getting:

    For example, LLDP uses the MAC address 01-80-C2-00-00-00 if the subscriber wants…

    I was getting:

    For example, LLDP uses the MAC address 01-80-C2-00-00-
    00 if the subscriber wants…

    Ugh! This fixes that. So, yes, I have a HUGE vote of ‘YES I NEED THIS’ as another one of the many fixes for technical writing.

  8. November 23, 2015 at 9:15 pm #

    Thanks bunches for posting this tip. It’s a mystery to me why this shortcut doesn’t appear anywhere in Word’s help file as far as I can tell. If it wasn’t for the shortcut, would there be any other way to insert a nonbreaking space? (I couldn’t see anything about it in the “Insert” menu.)

    • November 30, 2015 at 12:15 am #

      Harvey, I think if you search for keyboard shortcuts, you can find them listed in the help. I don’t know of a way to do it without the shortcut.

Leave a Reply