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Ignoring Hyphens in Word Counts

Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. If you are using a later version (Word 2007 or later), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for later versions of Word, click here: Ignoring Hyphens in Word Counts.

Jayson asked if there was a way to make sure that Word ignored hyphens used in compound words when doing word counts. For instance, he wants Word to count "real-time video" as three words, rather than two. There is no native way to do this in Word. The reason is quite simple—the generally accepted rule is that a compound word is always treated as a single word. For instance, the compound adjective "real-time" is a different word than "real time."

There are three kinds of compound words—the closed form ("firefly"), hyphenated form ("daughter-in-law"), and open form ("post office"). Compound words are often hyphenated to remove ambiguity (i.e., an "old-furniture salesman" clearly deals in old furniture, but an "old furniture salesman" could be an old man. In most contexts you wouldn't have the same problem understanding "used furniture salesman").

Using the example "real-time video," the word count for that phrase should equal two, since "real-time" becomes one word by virtue of the hyphenation. In the sentence, "Talk to your father-in-law," the count should be four words, since "father-in-law" is treated as one word. Counting "father-in-law" as three words would be blatantly incorrect, since you're referring to one person. So, once compound words are closed or hyphenated they are counted as one word. If the compound word is open, e.g., "post office," it is counted as two words.

If you have a particular need to treat compound words as individual words, then the easiest way to do it is to search for the hyphens used to create the compound words and replace them with something that won't affect the word count. When the word count is completed, you can change that "something" back into hyphens. Follow these general steps:

  1. Press Ctrl+H or choose Replace from the Edit menu. Word displays the Replace tab of the Find and Replace dialog box.
  2. Click on the More button, if it is available. (See Figure 1.)
  3. Figure 1. The Replace tab of the Find and Replace dialog box.

  4. Make sure the Use Wildcards check box is selected.
  5. In the Find What box, enter the following:
       ([A-z]{2,})-([A-z]{2,})
  • In the Replace With box, enter the following. (Note that there is a space after the one and before the second backslash.)
  •        \1 \2
    
    1. Click on Replace All.
    2. Close the Find and Replace dialog box.
    3. Choose Word Count from the Tools menu. Word displays the count of words in your document.
    4. Press Ctrl+Z. Word undoes the find-and-replace operation that you did and your document is back to normal.

    This particular sequence of steps replaces, with a space, any hyphen that is surrounded on each side by two or more letters. Thus, "real-time" would be replaced with "real time," but the dash in "A-7" would not be replaced.

    There is something to realize when adjusting word counts using a method such as this. While it may make sense (to some) to count "real-time video" as three words instead of two, most people would agree that "pre-arranged meeting" should always be counted as two and never as three. In other words, the context in which a hyphen is used can affect whether we treat the words connected by that hyphen as a single compound word or two individual words. Any search-and-replace process, such as that described above, looks solely at the placement of hyphens, not at their context. Thus, the word count derived by the above process would count "pre-arranged meeting" as three words.

    For this very reason, most people accept the idea that compound words are treated as a single word in any word count.

    WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (1706) applies to Microsoft Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. You can find a version of this tip for the ribbon interface of Word (Word 2007 and later) here: Ignoring Hyphens in Word Counts.

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