Updated October 3rd, 2020.
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 very 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 (non-printing) 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, and they don’t print. 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!
Here’s a Word 2016 document showing invisible characters (slightly different). Click it!
Here’s a Word 2016 document with the invisible characters hidden (again, slightly different). Click to enlarge.
Here’s the toolbar button that toggles Invisibles on and off in Word 2011. Click to see the close-up view.
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.
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!
Here’s what to look for in Word 2016’s preferences. I’ll bet the picture gets bigger if you click it!
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!Copyright 2008-2023 Christian Boyce. All rights reserved.
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Very helpful stuff – thanks!
Please put me on your list!
The only webpage that was helpful for word 2011 Thank you!
command 8 . Fantastic. Thanks so much
Your site answered my question in obe minute after spending an entire day yesterday looking for it!
(I’ll look to see how I can “like” or subscribe to your content.)
That’s awesome. Thank you! Tell a friend!
thank you for the short answer!
Thank you SO much for a simple but hugely valuable answer that was surprisingly difficult to find anywhere else !
You’re welcome! Super-easy when you know how. Tell a friend! Those “sharing” buttons aren’t going to click themselves!!!
Thank you! Not easy to discover the shortcut Cmd-8
You’re telling me! I’m sure I didn’t know it through many years of Word use. Glad we both know it now!
Very helpful, thank you.
Thank you! Worked like a charm
Fantastic. Word has so many little tricky things.
This was very helpful. Thank you!
Very helpful. Command-8 works beautifully on my MS365, MacMonterey OS.
However, I still need to know how to remove the character (e.g., the little square box that seems to put more space between paragraphs) and which I can’t delete even after it’s visible.
Send me a screenshot showing those boxes and I’ll have a look. Send it to me at macman at christianboyce dot com.
Thanks; I did solve that particular problem using some of the formating tools.
Command 8 does it! Thank you! Why couldn’t MS simply have that in their help information instead of telling us to go to file->options->Display, when there isn’t even an options menu any more!
THANK YOU! you made that so easy Command 8 DONE!