Understanding the No-Width Characters

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated April 23, 2022)

Beginning in Word 2000, Microsoft added two new special characters to Word: the no-width optional break and the no-width non break. Both characters are visible if you display the Symbol dialog box and scroll to the bottom of the Special Characters tab. (See Figure 1.) These characters were intended for use with some Asian languages, where characters can be placed beside or on top of one another. Also, the languages may use syntactic constructions that have no spaces between sequential words, unlike the English language which uses spaces to separate words.

Figure 1. The Symbol dialog box.

The easiest way for English-speaking people to understand these two characters is to compare them to a space and a non-breaking space. A space is used to separate words, and a space is a natural place to break two words at the end of a line. The no-width optional break is analogous to a space. If it is inserted between two words, the words would normally appear next to each other, with no space between them, unless the words fall at the end of a line. In that case, Word can put the first word at the end of the line and the second word at the beginning of the next line.

For the purposes of Asian languages, the no-width non break character is analogous to a non-breaking space character in English. It provides a way to make sure that two subsequent words stay together, even though the character has no width.

Even though the characters are primarily intended for Asian languages, you may think that they could be used in some English-language situations. For instance, you might think that a no-width non break character could be used following an en dash or an em dash to make sure that the words surrounding the dashes always stay on the same line together. This, however, will not work.

To understand why it won't work, again refer to the analogous English characters. Remember that the no-width non break is analogous with the non-breaking space. If you type a word, insert a dash (en or em), type a non-breaking space, and then another word, the words and the dash still will break at the end of a line, right after the dash. (The non-breaking space ends up as the first character on the next line.)

Unfortunately, there is no direct way in Word to make either the en dash or the em dash "sticky" at both ends; they are always sticky with the word preceding them, but will break at the end of the dash, if necessary.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (3882) applies to Microsoft Word 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. ...

MORE FROM ALLEN

Getting Rid of Extra Quote Marks in Exported Text Files

If you don't like the way that Excel exports information you intend to use with other programs, then your best bet is to ...

Discover More

Dragging and Dropping Pictures in a Document

Do you like to add pictures to your document just by dragging and dropping? What are you to do if it appears the ...

Discover More

Displaying the User Name in the Status Bar or Title Bar

Sometimes it can come in handy to know who the current computer user is, as far as Word is concerned. This tip presents ...

Discover More

Comprehensive VBA Guide Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) is the language used for writing macros in all Office programs. This complete guide shows both professionals and novices how to master VBA in order to customize the entire Office suite for their needs. Check out Mastering VBA for Office 2010 today!

More WordTips (menu)

Inserting Foreign Characters

It is not unusual to need to insert foreign characters (often called diacritical marks) as part of your typing. Word ...

Discover More

Messed-up Typing

It is not uncommon for newcomers to Word to overwrite their existing document text as they are editing. There is a reason ...

Discover More

Dealing with Run-On Sentences

A common task when editing documents is to break up run-on sentences. You can make this task a little easier by using the ...

Discover More
Subscribe

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in WordTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

View most recent newsletter.

Comments

If you would like to add an image to your comment (not an avatar, but an image to help in making the point of your comment), include the characters [{fig}] (all 7 characters, in the sequence shown) in your comment text. You’ll be prompted to upload your image when you submit the comment. Maximum image size is 6Mpixels. Images larger than 600px wide or 1000px tall will be reduced. Up to three images may be included in a comment. All images are subject to review. Commenting privileges may be curtailed if inappropriate images are posted.

What is seven minus 2?

There are currently no comments for this tip. (Be the first to leave your comment—just use the simple form above!)


This Site

Got a version of Word that uses the menu interface (Word 97, Word 2000, Word 2002, or Word 2003)? This site is for you! If you use a later version of Word, visit our WordTips site focusing on the ribbon interface.

Videos
Subscribe

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in WordTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

(Your e-mail address is not shared with anyone, ever.)

View the most recent newsletter.