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Word Operates Backwards

Linda ran into a problem where, all of a sudden, Word was starting to operate "backwards." Comments entered in the text were right-aligned, even though they were formatted as left-aligned. Her arrow keys also worked the opposite of the way they should: the left arrow moved the cursor to the right and vice versa.

This problem is undoubtedly related to the language settings in Word, and possibly within Office. Word (and Office) supports many different languages, including languages that are written from right to left, such as Arabic, Hebrew, Chinese, and many other languages.

The solution is to figure out where--exactly--the language change has been made, and then undo it. One thing you can try is to get out of Word and rename your Normal.dot file. This file can contain the default language setting for Word; renaming the file and then restarting Word causes the old Normal.dot to be ignored and a new one created.

Of course, renaming Normal.dot also means that other settings contained within the file are also lost. If you don't want to do that (or if renaming the file doesn't solve the problem), then you need to make sure that the language settings for Office are set the way you want them. Follow these steps, assuming you are using Word 2000 or later:

  1. Close down Word; get out of it completely.
  2. In Windows, click Start | Programs | Microsoft Office Tools | Microsoft Office Language Settings. This starts the Office Language Settings program. (See Figure 1.)
  3. Figure 1. The Office Language Settings program.

  4. Make sure the only language shown as "enabled" is the language you use. The interface for the program differs slightly based on the version of Office you are using, but there should be a list of available languages shown, along with a list of languages that are enabled. Use the controls to make sure the desired language is set.
  5. Exit the Office Language Settings program.

Now that you are through making sure that Office understands which language you want to use, make sure that you set the default language in Word itself. Follow these steps:

  1. Start Word and make sure there is a blank document on the screen.
  2. Choose Tools | Language | Set Language. Word displays the Language dialog box. (See Figure 2.)
  3. Figure 2. The Language dialog box.

  4. Make sure that the language you want to use is selected in the language list. (This should be the same language you set in the Office Language Settings program.)
  5. Clear the Automatically Select Language check box.
  6. Click the Default button.
  7. Close the dialog box.

These steps set the default language in whatever template is loaded in Word at the time. Since you started (in step 1) with a blank document, this means that the default language for the Normal.dot template was set. If you use other templates, you will want to make sure that you load a new document based on each of those templates, in turn, and go through these same steps to change their language settings.

For additional information, check out Word's Help system and search for an article entitled "Change Paragraph Direction."

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (291) applies to Microsoft Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003.

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Comments for this tip:

ronny    21 Mar 2016, 08:25
reading the previous comments, thinks that this problem is left unsolved. better re-type the whole document again
Bob Vieira    28 Sep 2015, 01:34
After opening ONE document from Israel, my "comments" style is gone and even when I select comment text in Word 2003 and change it to English, that change never "sticks." God Awful!
Riyas Ahamed    07 May 2015, 02:05
I have a bilingual form in Ms Word. Could you help me how to delete Arabic words on that?
Yita    16 Jan 2015, 09:36
Thanks. The renaming of the normal.dot file helps.
Neil     02 Dec 2014, 12:43
None of the comments work !! I give up !! Do any of these people try to offer simple explanations ?
Ann Redmon    27 Jun 2014, 18:24
How do I correct this problem in Word 2011 on a Mac?
MSPrblms    20 Mar 2014, 15:56
This problem often happens when I create a chart in MS Word. I am using 2007. I am not using a foreign document. I create a brand new document, "Insert" a normal chart and the first columns will type regular. Then the cells will automatically align right and when I type, the letters go behind the other letters. The font and font styles all change too. I can change the font back, but it does not bold or italicize. My arrow buttons also work opposite. Its a random occurrence and have no idea why it happens or how to fix it.
sheik    12 Jan 2014, 13:18
Thank you very much , it worked good .great
frustratedly hating Microscoft    21 Mar 2013, 18:34
Your fix isn't working. I've selected all gain and again. The program REFUSES to change the default language to English.

I hate Microsoft. I've wasted hours on this one tiny problem.
Michael Swit    20 Mar 2013, 20:40
Thanks. I get Word documents from Israelis and never knew how to fix this problem when inserting comments into their documents.
Fadil    02 Mar 2013, 18:05
Dear, How can to returne to normal mode Word 2007. At ruler when I click on left text align the cursor go to the right side. and ruler is in this form: 10....9....8...7...6...5....4...3...2..1
melbournetutor    18 Mar 2012, 21:05
Hi there,

This is a little out of date now as I'm using Word 2007. But I wanted to add some extra advice for those stuck with a comments balloon that seems to type backwards. This is usually a result of opening an Arabic or Hebrew document in a English (US or UK) language Word.
In Word 2007, it has this annoying feature where the automatic update function cannot be disabled like in previous versions. Therefore, you cannot simply disable Word from updating its default template from another word document of a different language setting.

Here is how to resolve this:
1) First, open the awkward word document and ensure that the default language is set to English. (CTRL + A then Set Language, click on English from list and click the 'Default' button. OK the dialogue box.)
2) Type on a blank page some text, it can be some random words.
3) Format the style of this text the way you would want the comment text to appear.
4) With your typing indicator in the current text, open the styles list and find 'comments'. Right-click and select 'Update comment text to match selection'.

Now all your comments will no longer be back to front!

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