Word: Use the power of AutoCorrect to save heaps of time

March 8, 2011

Word’s AutoCorrect is one of its hidden gems. Hidden, because many Word users don’t know it exists, or, if they know it exists, think that it’s just for fixing a typo like ‘teh’ by changing it to ‘the’.

But there’s so much more to AutoCorrect than just fixing common typos. Word already has a default set of auto corrections, and you can add your own. Simple typo corrections are easy to set up (see this blog post for how to do so: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2008/07/04/word-2003-autocorrect/).

The power is in setting up whole strings of text that get generated just by a couple of letters, or in setting up text formatted just the way you want.

Let me give you some examples based on some work I’m doing now. Many of the documents I’m editing contain chemical notations — for example: CO2, H2S, O3, and the like. Let’s just look at CO2. To type this in your document, you have to hold down the Shift key while typing C and O, then release Shift to type the 2 and a following space, then use one of several methods to subscript the 2 (you type the space before subscripting the 2 otherwise the text to follow is also subscripted!).

That’s at least five, possibly ten or more, actions you had to complete just to get the chemical symbol for carbon dioxide! Multiply that by how many times you have to add CO2 to your document and you can see that you will spend a lot of time just getting this one chemical symbol correctly formatted. Wouldn’t it be nice to just type co2 and automatically have Word turn it into CO2? That’s the sort of thing AutoCorrect was designed for.

Here’s how to set up AutoCorrect to convert co2 into CO2 (these instructions work for Word 2003, Word 2007 and Word 2010):

  1. In your document, type CO2 and a space, then format it correctly (capital letters, then subscript the 2 but not the space; you should have CO2 ).
  2. Select and copy CO2 and its following space. This puts it on the clipboard.
  3. Open the AutoCorrect dialog box:
    • Word 2003: From the menu, select Tools > AutoCorrect Options.
    • Word 2007: Click the large Microsoft button in the top left, click Word Options, click Proofing, then click the AutoCorrect Options button in the AutoCorrect options section.
    • Word 2010: Click File in the top left, click Word Options, click Proofing, then click the AutoCorrect Options button in the AutoCorrect options section.
  4. About midway down the AutoCorrect dialog box, there are two fields: Replace and With. You should see CO2 in the With field as Word automatically pastes the last thing you copied into that field.
  5. In the Replace field on the left, type co2. (Hint: Type it in lower case as this will save keystrokes when you need to use it in your document.)
  6. Next to the With field, select Formatted text. This is a critical step. When you select Formatted Text, the pasted CO2 changes to CO2.
  7. Click Replace, then click OK.
  8. To test that it works, go back to your document, type co2 (lower case) then press the spacebar (or TAB key or ENTER key). Voila! Your co2 is automatically replaced with CO2 and a following space.

This is the AutoCorrect dialog box in Word 2003. The dialog box in Word 2007 and 2010 is similar.

Just think how much time you’ll save!

Now, start thinking about all sorts of other text you have to type regularly and see if there are shortcuts you can add to AutoCorrect so that as you type the shortcut, the long string of text replaces the shortcut. And don’t forget that Formatted text option to preserve any special formatting (see the September 2015 update below for a limitation with formatted AutoCorrect entries).

Be careful, though. Your replacement text should NOT be a real word otherwise you’ll get all sorts of weird stuff happening! Years ago my husband needed to write a lot of curriculum documents that used the terms ‘Physical Education’ and ‘Health Education’. I set up ‘pe’ for ‘Physical Education’ and he thought that was so clever that he set up ‘he’ for ‘Health Education’. However, every time he typed ‘he’, it converted to ‘Health Education’, even if it he meant ‘he’ — the male pronoun!

The way to avoid this sort of error is to add something like a period in front of the Replace text — .he instead of he. For example, typing .he converted my husband’s text to ‘Health Education’, whereas when he typed he the text stayed as typed.

Update September 2015: NOTE: Formatted AutoCorrect entries created in Word will ONLY work in Word, not the other Office programs. The formatted ones are stored in normal.dotm. However, plain text AutoCorrect entries are stored in *.ACL files, which are available to ALL Office programs.

[Links last checked March 2011]


  1. I had been struggling for ages trying to get Word 2007 to do this. Quick and clear explanation. Thank you. C

  2. I used to use Autocorrect for lots of stuff on my previous version of Word, especially for long medical terminology words, but in my new version, Word 2010, for some reason the option to choose “formatted text” is grayed out so it doesn’t give me that option! I really want to be able to do chemical symbols. Any ideas as to why this is grayed out and how to fix it?

  3. OK, figured it out!

  4. I use Word 2010, too, and had the same problem as Amy. I solved it this way: Instead of copying and pasting the formatted thing to the clipboard, just select it and the following space. Then it shows up in the “With:” box when you go to the AutoCorrect menu. So helpful for lab write-ups! Thank you!

  5. I am a fast – but bad – typist. What I would really like is an auto-correct function that works like auto-correct on the iPhone: it auto-corrects every word you write, as you write. Is there such a dictionary for Word?

  6. Not as far as I know. And I’m not sure it would be a good idea. Why? because autocorrect on phones is notorious for getting it wrong. For some examples, see: http://damnyouautocorrect.com/ (some language may offend… but that’s what can happen with autocorrect!)

  7. Even when you use autocorrect, you may still go over your text and correct errors :-)

  8. no autocorrect in MS Office 2010, then?

  9. Hi J

    AutoCorrect is in Word 2010 — see step 3 above, 3rd bullet point.


  10. Someone once changed “pi” into a string of formatted text for me. I’m trying to delete this now, but I cannot find it in the AutoCorrect list of changes anymore! Do you have any ideas on what to do or where I can find this previous change? (They did not take the precautions of the “.pi” unfortunately.)

  11. Hi Sharon

    I assume you’ve hunted the list of AutoCorrect entries for ‘pi’? If you can’t find it there, also check the ‘Exceptions’ lists (on the main AutoCorrect tab), and the Math AutoCorrect list.

    See this post for info on the Math AutoCorrect feature: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2011/07/04/word-insert-mathematical-symbols/

    Other areas to check (this is in Word 2010; Word 2007 will be the same, but Word 2003 is different):
    * Insert tab > Quick Parts > Building Blocks Organizer > sort the list by ‘Gallery’ and check the AutoText entries.
    * Keyboard shortcuts (this one could take a while to check!!): Word Options > Customize Ribbon > Customize button (at the bottom left next to Keyboard Shortcuts) > scroll down to the bottom of the Categories list, click on Macros, then click each macro in the Commands list and see if a keyboard shortcut is listed under ‘Current keys’. Repeat for ‘Building Blocks’ and ‘Common Symbols’ too.

    Other than that, I’m out of ideas!

    Can you ask the person who created it how they did it?


  12. Thank you! very helpful indeed.

  13. I set this up and the auto correct is working but everytime I use it the curser jumps to the next line. How do I correct this so I can keep typing?

  14. Hi Paula

    If you copied the text into the ‘Replace’ field when you set up the auto correct, then it’s likely that you copied the end of paragraph marker too, which would explain why it jumps to the next line.

    You have two options:
    Option 1. Open up Auto Correct, click on the auto correct entry, go to the end of the Replace field for it, and remove any ‘spaces’ at the end so that you only have text.

    Option 2: Copy the text you want as the replacement text again, but DO NOT copy any spaces or paragraph marks at the end of that text, then open up Auto Correct, go to the entry, and paste that replacement text into the relevant Replace field for the entry.


  15. works great except for F2N2. C2F6, C5F8, O2, N2, F2 all work fine. But F2N2 only subscripts the second 2, not the first. I have redone in many times and the “wtih” field shows both 2s in subscript. Even got rid of F2 just in case still only effect the second 2.

  16. Hi Doug

    I just tried all these in Word 2010 and they all worked, including F2N2. However, I didn’t copy them to the clipboard — as per Tytoalba’s comment on December 5, 2011, I just selected the text and the following space and it automatically went into the ‘With’ field.

    I suggest you zoom you text up to 200% and make sure formatting marks are turned on so you can see exactly what you are selecting.

    Oh, and check your existing list of AutoCorrect entries — maybe there’s one you did earlier that’s still there that you didn’t delete.

    Other than that, I have no suggestions as to why it doesn’t work for you.


  17. This is great, thanks. In Word 2010, the co2 to COsub2 works well as per your instructions. It doesn’t autocorrect until you press space, so you end up with the correct COsub2 but with two spaces, needing a backspace delete to correct it. It’s still a lot better than before so thanks for the tip!

  18. Hi Tallguy

    Yes, auto correct settings are activated with a space, or the Tab or Enter keys. And because this auto correct has a normal space included as part of it (to prevent the following characters you type from being subscripts also), you will get two spaces.

    You can either get rid of the extra space as you’re typing (painful) or wait until you’re finished then do a wildcard Find/Replace for all instances and replace it with one space. I suggest a wildcard Find/Replace as you will preserve the formatting that way (you may also be able to do a standard Find/Replace, but I’m not sure if the subscripts will be preserved).

    For the wildcard Find/Replace, save your document (work on a backup copy if you’re not confident with wildcard Find/Replace), then do this:

    1. Press Ctrl+H to open the Find/Replace dialog on the Replace tab.
    2. Click More.
    3. Select the Use Wildcards check box.
    4. In the Find what field, type (2)() where means to press the spacebar. Note: Each part of the Find is enclosed in parentheses.
    5. In the Replace with field, type \1 where means to press the spacebar.
    6. Click Replace All.


  19. It would be very useful if this could be set at the document level. I work on long manuscripts each with its own set of character names. It would be nice for example, if AutoCorrect could change “asd” to “Anthony Simon Dowd” in one document only. The same AutoCorrect on another document would be wrong.

  20. Thanks for this tip!
    I initially set it up as you described, but then the extra space was annoying me, so I tried it without copying the trailing space and it works fine (in Word 2010).

  21. Thanks for the helpful hint. Another useful way to build autocomplete is outlined here: by using the building blocks approach (http://scls.typepad.com/techbits/2011/11/how-to-use-autocomplete-in-word-2007.html)

  22. If only this would work for me. My drop-down menu screen looks exactly like the one you posted. The field under “Replace:” has “co2” and the field under the “Formatted Text” (selected) radio button shows “CO2” with the “2” as a subscript. HOWEVER, the list of autocorrections below now contains “co2” and “CO2” in the left and right columns, respectively. Note that the “CO2” in the right column does not have a subscripted “2.” Therein, apparently, lies the rub because “co2” is now replaced with “CO2” (no subscripted “2.” Try as I might, I cannot get this to work, and for years it did work on previous versions of word including a previous system with Word 2010 on it. Scratching my head so much I’m going bald. Any suggestions most welcome.

  23. Hi Rhonda

    Is it possible to use wild cards in autocorrect or is there an alternative method that you are aware of? I often type in dimensions such as 600 mm or 30 m. Occasionally I do not leave a space between the number and the mm or m so I might type 600mm or 30m. Is there a way that this can be corrected automatically so that there is a space?


  24. Hi Shaun

    My brief testing indicates that you can’t use wildcards in autocorrect. However, one option is to run a find/replace routine using wildcards after you’ve completed your document. For your example of any numeral immediately followed by an ‘m’, you’d do this (using wildcards):

    Find what: ([0-9])(m)
    Replace with: \1^s\2

    Note: I’ve added a non-breaking space (^s) between the number and the unit of measure as you won’t want them splitting at the end of a line.

    See also: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2012/02/08/word-insert-a-space-between-a-number-and-a-letter/


  25. Brilliant! Thanks Rhonda

  26. Thanks a lot. I have been struggling to get this info. I googled several times till I find your note. It is really good.

  27. Hi there. Very helpful post. I have been struggling with Word 2013, trying to enter macros for medical transcription. They were so very helpful when I was transcribing years ago. I am just starting up again after about 7 years and dismayed to see that they no longer work the way they used to and are pretty much useless for my purposes. Autocorrect may be an alternative for me, however my program says that I can only save entries of 255 characters. Is there any way you know of, to get around this? It would be very helpful if there was! Thanks for any help~!!

  28. Bookmarks may be an option. See this blog post for details: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2011/01/03/word-repeating-text-within-a-document/

  29. […] I set up Office 2013 on my new laptop and transferred all my ACL files from my PC to the laptop — ACL files are the AutoCorrect entries, and I have an extensive list. When I checked in Word, Excel, and Publisher, they were all listed. Outlook doesn’t list any AutoCorrects, but they still work with Outlook. However, PowerPoint only listed the ones that were just letters; it didn’t list those I had prefixed with a period. (See this post for why I use a period in front of many of my AutoCorrect entries: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2011/03/08/word-use-the-power-of-autocorrect-to-save-heaps-of-time/) […]

  30. I have tried the option for selecting text (CO2 ) in a document, and opening the Word Options, Proofing/Autocorrect, but the option to Replace: With “radio dial” Plain text “radio dial” Formatted text is still greyed out. Any ideas? My selected text does not appear, and when I paste it in the options are still greyed out (MSWord10)

  31. Just tried it again, and the area was no longer greyed out. Still a mystery, but solved.

  32. Why does Word forget auto corrects then days later it remembers them again?

  33. Hi Deanne

    Any formatted auto corrects are stored in your normal.dot template, so if you’re using a different template, they may not work. Unformatted auto corrects are stored in ACL files, so should work across all documents, no matter what template is used.

    That said, I’ve had occasional instances where some of my unformatted auto corrects won’t work in a particular document. And I have no idea why, either.


  34. Hi All! Is it possible to do the same in power point ?

  35. Yes, you can create them in PowerPoint the same way, or any other program in the Office suite. They work across all programs, so you only need to create the AutoCorrect once. (Exception: If you create the AutoCorrect in Word AND keep formatting, these ones won’t work in the other programs as they are stored with Word’s normal.dot template, NOT in the ACL file as the others are.)

  36. Thank you, big time saver!

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