Understanding Hard and Soft Returns

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated October 28, 2016)


When you use a typewriter, you press the Return, or Enter, key at the end of each line. This signifies you are done with one line and ready to begin the next. In Word, however, you do not have to do this. When you set up your page margins, Word is programmed to know that when you reach the right margin your text should automatically wrap to the next line.

There may be times, however, when you want to end a line before you get to the right margin. In these instances, you can end a line in either of two ways. The first way is to press the Enter key where you want the line to end. This results in a hard return being entered in the document. This action (pressing Enter) indicates that you have reached the end of the paragraph and want to start a new one.

The other way to end a line is to press Shift+Enter; this results in a soft return, sometimes called a line break or a newline character, being entered in the document. Hard returns are used to signify the end of a paragraph, whereas soft returns simply signify the end of a line.

If you have changed your view options so you can see all nonprinting characters, then a hard return appears on your screen as a paragraph mark (a backwards P), and a soft return appears as a down-and-left pointing arrow.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (170) applies to Microsoft Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He  is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...


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What is 8 - 2?

2017-01-07 12:24:46

Darlien Breeze

I need to learn more about using M S Word. Publishers are rejecting my work because of too many hard returns. I really don't understand.

2016-10-19 06:36:51


Apropos my post dated 29 July 2016, I was reminded by someone from another site that I should look at the further option in Find/Replace (ie, along the lines of those expressed by peterk 16 Jan 2013, 00:16.

I followed such instructions to the letter (including font sizes) but no actions resulted. Indeed, as a completely separate exercise, although the Paragraph Markers ^p can be found, Manual Line Breaks ^l are not. Why is this?

If my original problem (which remains unsolved) is inappropriate to this Word Tip, I'll be grateful if someone will point me to the correct one.

Regards and thanks to you all.

2016-10-18 16:32:01

C Coates

I was advised to use the soft return for new paragraphs when setting up my ms for self-publishing. I don't understand what difference it would make except to add a whole lot of extra work on my part. Do I need to do this?

2016-07-29 12:33:35


Perhaps related (or maybe not!).

How can I find the character codes to use in Find and Replace for paragraph spacing hard returns and associated font size? In particular, what I'd like to enter in the Find box are the characters for the hard return AND THE FONT SIZE and similarly, for the Replace box, a DIFFERENT FONT SIZE so that I can use the latter to effect wholesale changes to paragraph spacing.

Is this possible? At present, if I wish to achieve such formatting I have to manually make the font size changes at every paragraph end (or beginning).

I suspect it may be possible using Alt+numeric characters but don't know what/which. Any thoughts on the subject?

2016-07-28 21:18:52


I am yet to find how to replace a soft return with a hard return ^P in Word. Any suggestions would be useful. Thank you.

2016-02-24 05:08:44


Thanks so much.

2015-07-30 18:46:30

Ian Z

I have a question on a slight variation of this question/tip.

I need to replace all the Hard Returns for Soft returns (and this tip helped me accomplish that) BUT....I want skip Headings. The above steps replaced it for ALL hard returns and changed the associated style for Headings.

I need to leave the Headings alone, and convert all others.

any help is greatly appreciated.

2014-12-05 11:29:27


This helped my daughter on an ICT Microsoft cross word.
Thank you

2013-01-16 00:16:43


Oops, wrong way round. My instructions will turn Paragraph marks into Manual line returns. Just reverse the characters in the 2 fields to get the reverse Find and Replace.

2013-01-16 00:12:36


You can change line breaks into paragraph breaks using the Find and Replace dialog box...
1. Open the dialog box.
2. Click the More button if necessary to see all options.
3. With the cursor in the Find what field, click on the Special button and select Paragraph Mark. (You should see ^p in the field, and can type those characters in directly.)
4. Tab to the Replace with field, click the Special button and select Manual Line Break (or type ^l).
5. Click Replace (if you want to check with one change that you've set it up the way you want) then Replace All (to make all changes throughout the document).

Word will tell you how many changes have been made. You can use this as a final audit of the process (eg if no changes have been made, that will warn you that you used the wrong characters in the Find or Replace fields.)

2013-01-15 23:04:00

Lana Bueno

I wish to change all hard returns to soft returns in my .pdf document which I have copied into Word.

2013-01-09 23:18:40


I have copied a .pdf file into Word, but this document has a 'hard return'on each line, using only half of the sheet.

I can manually change these 'hard returns' into 'soft returns', but we are talking 140 pages here.

Is there an easier way to change 'hard returns' into 'soft returns' at one time?


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