Word: What are the blue squiggly lines?

July 5, 2010

With Word 2007 came the blue squiggly underline. So far I’ve found two purposes for it:

  1. To indicate a word that may be incorrect in the context of its surrounding words (e.g. you write ‘weather’ and, based on the other words, Word thinks that you really meant to write ‘whether’).
  2. To show formatting inconsistencies.

By right-clicking on the word with the blue squiggly line, you can find out which type it is — if you get the option to change the word to another, then you have the contextual type; if you get the option to replace the formatting with a style (as shown below), then you have the second type.

The rest of this post deals with the blue squigglies associated with formatting inconsistencies.

If you’ve never seen the blue squigglies that means one of two things — either you don’t have any formatting inconsistencies (hmmm… a perfect Word document?), OR you haven’t checked the box to show them (much more likely).

Here’s how to show them:

  1. Click the Microsoft Office button .
  2. Click Word Options.
  3. Click Advanced on the left.
  4. Scroll down to the Editing options section.
  5. Select the Mark formatting inconsistencies check box (if this check box is grayed out, select the Keep track of formatting check box first).
  6. Click OK.

When you’ve finished checking and fixing the inconsistencies, consider turning off both check boxes again. Personally, I turn off Keep track of formatting as I’m not sure of any advantages in keeping it turned on while I’m writing a document — it’s very handy when I’m editing, but I’m not sure whether it’s a help or hindrance when writing.

BTW, I haven’t played with this Mark formatting inconsistencies much, but the little testing I did do with it didn’t show up things I expected it show. Does anyone know what ‘rules’ Microsoft uses to determine whether something is formatted inconsistently or not? I couldn’t figure it out from my short tests. If you do know, please share below in the Comments.


  1. […] in July 2010, I wrote about what the blue squiggly lines mean in Word 2007. But I’ve seen a few others that I can’t figure out. They don’t fit the two […]

  2. I noticed this too in Word 2010. I had never seen it before, so decided to look it up, and this is what I got. hmm…

  3. I searched “blue squiggly line” in Microsoft Office Help and it found this article and one other:


  4. I found the blue line came up when I used font size 10 rather than 11. It blue lined the whole document and when I asked it to correct the formatting it made the whole document font size 11. Weird!

  5. Click off “Keep Track of Formatting” and everything in reach on all the other tabs, as long as it looks as though it may be relevant. Finally checked/unchecked the right boxes and made the squiggles go away. But which ones it was we may never know ! Also we may not know yet if there are any problems waiting round the corner ??

  6. Thank you for letting me know how to get rid of the squiggly blue lines.

  7. Thank you

  8. All of the formatting-tracker boxes are unchecked, and Word *still* insists on putting blue squiggly underlines all over the place! Our writers have started exploring other tools (LaTeX-based stuff mostly) due to the nonstop annoyances like this in Word, where we tell it to do something and it simply ignores us.

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