Word: Align decimal numbers

February 4, 2009

You have a column of numbers with a variety of lengths and decimal places. But no matter what you do with the paragraph alignment buttons, they just won’t line up properly at the decimal point.

For example:

Decimals left

Left aligned


Center aligned


Right aligned

As with most things in Word, there are a couple of ways you can solve this problem — and the critical thing you need to know is that that what you want is called a ‘decimal tab’.

The procedure for setting a decimal tab is very similar for both Word 2003 and 2007.

  1. Turn on the ruler if it’s not already displayed (Word 2003: View > Ruler; Word 2007: View tab > Ruler check box).
  2. Select the column of numbers.
  3. Set the column’s contents so that the ‘paragraphs’ are left-aligned.
  4. Click the tab icon at the top left of the ruler several times (typically three times) until it looks like this:

    Decimal tab icon

    Decimal tab icon

  5. Now, click in the ruler between the ‘flags’ where you want the decimal tab alignment to be.
  6. All your numbers are now aligned at the decimal point!

If you want to align several columns of numbers at once using the same decimal tab alignment, then the procedure is much the same:

  1. Select all the columns you want to align to the decimal tab and make sure the ‘paragraphs’ are left-aligned.
  2. Click the tab icon at the top left of the ruler until it shows the decimal tab icon.
  3. Click in the ruler between the grayed out ‘flags’ of the first column. All columns have the decimal tab applied to them at once.
Set a decimal tab for multiple columns

Set a decimal tab for multiple columns

If you don’t like using the tab icons on the ruler, then you can set a decimal tab in the Alignment section of the Tabs dialog.

Tabs dialog

Tabs dialog

To open the Tabs dialog:

  • Word 2003: Format > Tabs
  • Word 2007: Home tab > Paragraph group > dialog box launcher (which then opens the Paragraph dialog)  > Tabs button (at the bottom left of the Paragraph dialog).
Paragraph dialog launcher button

Paragraph dialog launcher button


  1. Very informative how-to. Got me sorted in minutes!

  2. Just be sure that the text alignment is set to left as shown in the last figure. I had it set to center and of course the decimal won’t align.

  3. Thanks for that reminder! I forgot to add that info to the steps — I’ll do so now.


  4. This does not work if not in a table correct?

  5. Correct. I thought it did, but I just checked on Word 2003, and it didn’t work on a selected list of decimal numbers in the text, only on those in a table.


  6. Thank you! Much help in formatting my tables for my Masters thesis.

  7. I have a problem with alignment. It only works if I use a decimal comma, not when using a decimal point. Unfortunately I want to use a point. Anyone know how to fix this?

  8. Hi Tom

    The only thing I can think of is that your keyboard/language settings are set to a European language, where I believe that commas are used instead of points (I may be wrong on this, of course, as I’ve never been to Europe!).

    I’ll see if a friend of mine in Denmark can respond to this…


  9. Hi Tom

    I think Rhonda is correct (not at the office where I have Office to confirm… :))
    In some situations, the regional settings on your computer dictate the delimiter used with numbers. In Denmark where I live, the comma is used with decimals. A Danish price of 125 kroner and 50 ører is written 125,50. I worked in a Danish company that was a subsidiary of an American company. I had to write such numbers with a decimal point, as in 125.25 to follow the company style guide. This did not work in Visio. Visio took its numbering from the regional settings on the machine. 156,25 Hz was confusing for many! I couldn’t force Visio to accept 156.25 Hz in a text box. It was always overriden. Only by setting my regional settings and especially chosing the decimal delimiter to be a . and not a comma could I make correct diagrams that passed review. I’ll double-check all this tomorrow when I am at work.

  10. OK now I am mystified.
    I am using Word 2010.
    I had my decimal system set to a period/dot. I switched to a comma and made a document to perform this test. I made a column of numbers with commas, with periods, and then with both. I saved and opened again. I switched back to the period/dot.
    No problems anywhere.
    I wondered about formatting – was the cell text or numbers. I found nothing to change that, so I was just using whatever default there is in a fresh document.

    I kept my language as Danish throughout. I also have the Danish and English (U.S.) keyboards activated.

    Tom – try some of these experiments and see what happens. There must be a setting somewhere in these places that is causing trouble. And if there is trouble in 2003 and 2007, perhaps it was fixed for 2010?

  11. How to align correctly decimal numbers if some of them comprise +, -, or +- signs?

  12. I don’t think you can.


  13. WHYYYYYYYY!!!!!! Why am I too stupid for this Word??????????????
    Why is nothing happening when I set a decimal tab????????????????
    Neither with points nor commas nor any verfiggts & verfluechts sign????????????????
    Why can’t my Wor(l)d be LaTeX??????????????

  14. :) Ok Ctrl+tab did it…

  15. My columns of numbers had pluses, minuses, and even asterisks, and this worked like a charm to center everything on the decimal. Thanks so much for this information.

  16. Fantastic! Thanks for the tip!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: