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How to replace words in Word: simple steps for PC and Mac

how to replace words in word

Simple steps guide for how to replace words in Word, what to avoid doing, and what the menu of options means and does.

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Find and Replace is a simple but important function of Microsoft Word. At the same time, it is one of the basics that you should definitely know. We’ll show you how to use the feature and how much work it can save you.

The longer the Word document, the more annoying are the spelling mistakes that run through the entire text. This happens particularly often with proper names or with certain formulations that are not commonplace. Thanks to the “Find and Replace” function, however, you only need a few seconds to solve the problem.

How does ‘Find and Replace’ work?

The function for finding and replacing in the popular word processor from Microsoft is used to find a certain character string in a text and exchange it for another. In addition to the visible characters such as numbers, letters and special characters, the function also recognizes control characters. 

You can easily replace tabs, paragraph marks and spaces with other characters using the “Find and Replace” function in Word or delete them entirely. The Word search and replace function is not only useful and practical for copywriters and authors. Program scripts or HTML / XML texts can also be easily edited with this function. Used correctly, it can help to make work much more efficient.

How to replace words in Word: what to avoid

The function is particularly efficient when an existing text is only to be adapted slightly. What many do not consider, however: As simple and convenient the function may be at first glance , it also harbors so many stumbling blocks . It is therefore very important that you know exactly what the result should look like before using the function. So let’s say you want to edit the repetitive phrase “press button A and B” in some text.

For example, if you want to replace the word “and” with the word “or”, you must also copy the space before and after the word “and” and also add spaces before and after the “or” you are replacing it with. This lets Word know you only want to replace whole words.

Otherwise Word will do the replacements to parts of words as well, and chaos is inevitable as this will produce nonsense words. Wherever Word finds the character sequence “and”, it will mercilessly replace it with “or”, . “Sand” becomes “Sor”, “Brand” becomes “Bror”, and so on. The tricky thing about this is that you don’t necessarily immediately recognize these changes. While there is a very good chance that the spell checker will cross out all the meaningless words for you, that does not offer any real security.

The “Find and Replace” function really does the replacements you have entered and does not take any possible misrepresentation of the meaning of your text into account.

If you’ve found that your Word find-and-replace process wasn’t working as expected, you can easily undo the last step. With the undo function, you can take everything back in one fell swoop.

How to replace words in Word: step-by-step

  • Step 1: Highlight the section of text you want to find and replace and copy the selection.
  • Step 2 : Use the shortcut Ctrl + H (CTRL + H on Macintosh). The “Find and Replace” window appears. You can also find the function via the navigation bar or the start label.
  • Step 3: Paste the previously copied text into the first input field (“Search for”).
  • Step 4: Enter the text you want to replace in the lower text field (“Replace with”).
  • Step 5: If you now click on “Replace”, the function only exchanges the character string where you previously marked the text. When you click Replace All, Word replaces the string throughout the document.

The “Find and Replace” function in Word doesn’t care what kind of characters are to be exchanged. You can really replace anything with anything. However, certain strings represent certain functions. For example, if you want to remove unnecessary paragraph marks , you can also do this with the search and replace function: To do this, go to the input mask of the function as usual and open the advanced search options there. If you select the option “Paragraph Mark” under “Special Format”, Word will automatically enter “^ p” in the search field.

If you now repeat this, i.e. enter two paragraph marks one after the other, but only insert the symbol once in the “Replace with” field and then confirm with “Replace all”, all duplicate paragraph marks will be exchanged for a single paragraph mark. This function is very popular when texts from other formats, for example from websites or from PDF documents, are to be copied into a Word document.

If you want to swap uppercase letters for lowercase letters, simply activate the “Upper / lower case” field in the “Expand” function.

How to replace words in Word: Find and Replace options explained

In the following table, we have listed the options with which you can refine your search in the Replace tool:

Upper / lower caseOnly words that are case-sensitive will be replaced.
Search only whole wordsWords that only partially match are not replaced.
Use wildcardsWords that partially match are replaced. For example: “Master” finds the words “Master” and “Pattern”.
Match prefixWords that have the same prefixes or initials are replaced.
Match suffixWords with common suffixes or the same endings are replaced.
Ignore punctuation marksHyphenation is ignored.
Ignore spacesThe space between characters is ignored.

Note: Similar spellings and word forms can also be used as search options, but only in English.

How to search Word for special characters, such as paragraph marks

Word can not only include simple text in the substitution, but also special characters such as paragraph marks, carriage returns or tab stops. These can be used both for the part to be searched for and for the replacement. Of course, you can also use it to find and replace spaces .

These special characters each consist of the caret and a letter. For example, a paragraph mark is represented with “^ p”. This enables useful changes. For example, if you want to swap all double paragraph marks for single paragraphs, search for ^ p ^ p and replace with ^ p.

There are many other codes for characters with special functions. The Find and Replace dialog has built in a helper so that you don’t have to look up or learn all of them . To do this, click the Special Format button . Every click on an entry in this list causes the associated character code to be inserted at the current cursor position.

With the code ^ c, Word uses the contents of the clipboard for the replacement. This is not very useful for text, but it is a great option if you want to find and replace the same graphic in your document. This is useful, for example, for using a company logo in the running text.

This makes it  easy to remove all conditional dividing lines , for example. These are important for the controlled hyphenation, but sometimes annoying.

Even without activating the special wildcard search mode , Word can work with “Wilcards” to a limited extent. These are placeholders that stand for any character in a particular class. For example, ^ # stands for any digit or ^ $ for any letter. You can use it to search for “H ^ $ se” and Word will find both “Hose” and “Hase”. To find any character, use ^?

This option rarely helps with searching and replacing in normal texts. It is good, however, if you want to change something in schematic identifiers, such as article numbers or similar.

Suppose you have numbers in your text, like M123-9876, which are always structured the same way. You might want to replace it so that the number remains, but the text “Article no.” In front of it. appears. Then in the Find What box enter : ^ $ ^ # ^ # ^ # – ^ # ^ # ^ # ^ #

and when replacing with write: Article no. ^ &

The special character ^ & causes Word to reinsert the found text here, in this case the article number. It is also important that you activate the case-sensitive option. Otherwise Word would write when replacing: ARTICLE NO.

How to search Word with regular expressions

If you activate the inconspicuous option Use placeholders , Word has a much wider range of tools for search terms. Because it then supports the powerful concept of regular expressions .

One application of this would be the task of replacing all text parts placed in quotation marks with italics, whereby the quotation marks should disappear. Something like this can be necessary, for example, if you did not observe the specified spelling in a technical documentation when writing and everything has to be rearranged. Then such an automatic run is a great relief.

  1. Activate Use placeholders
  2. Enter as search term:  “(? *)”
  3. Use as a pattern for the replacement: \ 1
  4. Click the Format button  and select the Character variant .
  5. In the dialog that now appears, select italics and confirm with OK .
  6. Under the replacement field can now be found as an indication Font: Italic .
  7. Now you can carry out or check the exchange as before with Find Next and Replace or Replace All .

Although the concept of regular expressions is not to be explained here, the example works like this: The question mark followed by the star is the pattern for “any character that appears any number of times”. The surrounding brackets define a group that is then used in the replacement. The brackets do not have to appear in the text itself. The entire expression therefore applies to all texts enclosed in quotation marks. In the replacement text, the \ 1 causes  Word to insert the part found between the first brackets. So that’s exactly the text you want, just without the quotation marks. If there were several brackets, you could address them in the replacement text with \ 2 , \ 3 etc.

In Word, Find and Replace is a very powerful tool. However, we recommend practicing with it a little so that the function really delivers the desired result.

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