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: Specifying a Number of Matches.

Specifying a Number of Matches

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated June 18, 2016)

Word allows you to use pattern matching when searching for information in a document. Pattern matching is enabled by making sure the Use Wildcards check box is selected in the Find and Replace dialog box.

One of the things that pattern matching allows you to do is to specify how many of the preceding character you want to find. You make this specification by enclosing a number within curly braces. For instance, you already know that if you want to search for any single digit, you specify this as [0-9]. If you want to search for any three digits, you can do it either as [0-9][0-9][0-9] (which is rather awkward), or you can simply use [0-9]{3}.

You can also specify a range of matches to be made. If you are looking for any three-, four-, or five-digit sequences, you can do so by searching for [0-9]{3,5}. Remember, however, that the value or range specified in the curly braces only applies to the previous character being searched for.

If you leave off the last number in the curly braces, you are not setting an upper limit. For instances, let's say you wanted to search your document for any periods followed by two or more spaces. You could do this by entering a period followed by a space followed by {2,}. Likewise you could search for a sequence of two or more tabs by using the specification ^t{2,}.

Pattern matching in Word does allow for one shortcut to specifying a quantity. Let's say you want to search for any number of semicolons in your document. You can do so by using a specification of ;{1,}, but you can also use the specification ;@. The at sign is functionally the same as {1,}.

It is interesting to note that you can use the quantity specifier with wildcards, but probably not with the desired results. For instance, if you wanted to search for the letters t and d separated by two characters, you can use the search specification of t??d. But if you use t?{2}d as your specification (which you would think would be the same), it is instead translated by Word as t*d, which is definitely not what you would want. Using a quantity specification with the asterisk wildcard has no effect.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (1661) 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: Specifying a Number of Matches.

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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