How to Show (and Hide) Invisible Characters like Paragraph Marks in Microsoft Word on a Mac

— How to Show (and Hide) Invisible Characters in Microsoft Word on a Mac —

Short Answer: Command-8 (⌘-8)
There’s a keyboard shortcut for toggling invisible characters (like paragraph marks, and spaces, and tabs) in Microsoft Word on a Mac and as far as I know it’s worked in every version, since the beginning. Command-8 does it. Command-8 to show them, Command-8 again to hide them. Easy as pie!

Microsoft Word on the Mac has a nice feature that lets you show invisible characters such as returns, tabs, and spaces. Those characters are just as “charactery” as anything else you type– they take up space, they’re copy and paste-able, you can give them a point size– but they’re invisible. Most of the requests I get on this topic concern turning invisibles off, because since the user often doesn’t know how he turned those invisible characters on, he also doesn’t know how to turn them off. Here’s how you do both.

Here’s a Word 2011 document showing invisible characters. Click it to see a larger version!

Word document showing Invisible Characters
Microsoft Word 2011 document showing Invisible Characters

Here’s a Word 2016 document showing invisible characters (slightly different). Click it!

Microsoft Word 2016 with Invisibles Showing
Microsoft Word 2016 with Invisibles Showing

Here’s a Word 2011 document with the invisible characters hidden. Click!

Microsoft Word document with Invisible Characters hidden
Microsoft Word 2011 document with Invisible Characters hidden

Here’s a Word 2016 document with the invisible characters hidden (again, slightly different). Click to enlarge.

Microsoft Word 2016, Invisibles Hidden
Microsoft Word 2016, Invisibles Hidden

Here’s the toolbar button that toggles Invisibles on and off in Word 2011. Click to see the close-up view.

Invisibles Toggle button in Microsoft Word toolbar
Invisibles Toggle button in Microsoft Word 2011 toolbar

Here’s the toolbar button that toggles Invisibles on and off in Word 2016. The button will disappear if you hide the Ribbon, so don’t do that. Click to see it better.

Microsoft Word 2016 toolbar showing Toggle Invisibles button
Microsoft Word 2016 toolbar showing Toggle Invisibles button

That’s all there is to it. Click the button in the toolbar to show the invisible characters; click the button again to hide them.

Double-Bonus: sometimes the button doesn’t work. In that case, Command-8 isn’t going to work either. If this happens to you, go to View in Word’s Preferences, and make sure you have nothing checked under “Nonprinting characters.” See the picture below (Microsoft Word 2011). Definitely click!

Be sure you don't have anything checked under "Nonprinting characters."
Be sure you don’t have anything checked under “Nonprinting characters.”

Here’s what to look for in Word 2016’s preferences. I’ll bet the picture gets bigger if you click it!
Word 2016 preferences for showing invisible characters
Word 2016 preferences for showing invisible characters

I don’t know why you would want to check those boxes, but if you do, the toolbar button and the Command-8 keyboard shortcut will not toggle those characters’ visibility. This can be very confusing, as one of my customers and I discovered this week. He had every box checked, so nothing was toggled by the toolbar button, and nothing was toggled by Command-8. Don’t let this happen to you!


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