Understanding the No-Width Characters

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated December 7, 2013)

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

Determining Business Quarters from Dates

Many businesses organize information according to calendar quarters, especially when it comes to fiscal information. Given a ...

Discover More

Can't Find or Delete a Style

Using the shortcuts available in the Styles pane to select text can be very helpful. It may, however, be quite frustrating if ...

Discover More

Finding Documents Containing Multiple Occurrences of a Word

Searching for documents that contain a particular word is rather straightforward. The task becomes a bit trickier when you ...

Discover More

Create Custom Apps with VBA! Discover how to extend the capabilities of Office 2013 (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and Access) with VBA programming, using it for writing macros, automating Office applications, and creating custom applications. Check out Mastering VBA for Office 2013 today!

MORE WORDTIPS (MENU)

Typing Pronunciations of Words

Take a look in a dictionary at the way that words are phonetically spelled. Those special characters used to type those ...

Discover More

Symbols for Non-Printing Characters

Displaying non-printing characters can help you better understand the formatting and contents of your documents. What do all ...

Discover More

Creating New Windows

A great way to work on different parts of the same document at the same time is to create windows. These function as ...

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 for this tip:

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.

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.

Links and Sharing
Share