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: Searching for Periods Not Followed by a Space.

Searching for Periods Not Followed by a Space

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated January 4, 2012)

If you work with documents produced by other people, you may notice some common mistakes in those files. Many common mistakes are easy to correct, but what if you get a document where there are instances of spaces left out after periods. For instance, the document may contain "Mr.Davis" instead of "Mr. Davis" or "Feb.is" instead of "Feb. is." At first glance, you may think that there is no easy way to insert the missing spaces in the proper place.

Actually, there are a couple of different approaches you can take. The first approach is to just do a spell check of the document. Chances are good that most instances of a missing space after the period will be caught, and you can correct them as necessary.

The second approach involves doing two regular find and replace operations. Follow these general steps:

  1. Press Ctrl+H to display the Replace tab of the Find and Replace dialog box. (See Figure 1.)
  2. Figure 1. The Replace tab of the Find and Replace dialog box.

  3. In the Find What box, enter a period.
  4. In the Replace With box, enter a period followed by a space.
  5. Click on Replace All. (The Find and Replace dialog box should remain open after the replacements are completed.)
  6. In the Find What box, enter a period followed by two spaces.
  7. In the Replace With box, enter a period followed by one space.
  8. Click on Replace All.
  9. Close the Find and Replace dialog box.

When done, there will be a single space after every period in the document. There are a couple of large drawbacks to this approach, however. First of all, if your document contains decimal numbers, you will end up with things like "123. 45" instead of "123.45." Second, if a sentence originally ended in a period and a quote mark, you will end up with a space between the two characters. Third, you will end up with a space after every period that ends a paragraph.

The solution to these problems (and a way to perform the changes in a single find and replace operation) is to use wildcards. Try these steps:

  1. Press Ctrl+H to display the Replace tab of the Find and Replace dialog box.
  2. Click the More button, if it is available.
  3. Make sure the Use Wildcards check box is selected.
  4. In the Find What box, enter ".([A-z])" (without the quote marks).
  5. In the Replace With box, enter ". \1" (again, without the quote marks).
  6. Click on Replace All.
  7. Close the Find and Replace dialog box.

To understand what is happening in this example, it is best to understand what is being searched for and what it is being replaced with. In step 4, you are searching for a period followed by any uppercase or lowercase letter. By definition, this automatically excludes any periods followed by spaces, numbers, or other punctuation marks. In step 5 you are replacing any matched occurrences with a period, followed by a space, and then the letter found in the match. (The \1 characters means that Word should use whatever is in the first sent of parentheses in the Find What box, which happens to be the uppercase or lowercase letter.)

One final note: Regardless of which find and replace technique you use, you need to be on the lookout for improper replacements made where the period really should be followed by a letter—such as replacing "e.g." or "i.e." with "e. g." and "i. e."

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (1908) 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: Searching for Periods Not Followed by a Space.

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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