Top Typo-busting Tips

Using “Find and Replace” in Word is a useful tool for identifying common typos and homophones and formatting nits. All writers have their “pet nits” and it advisable to keep a list of your own so that you can run a check for them before the final edit. It’s much easier to spot a particular typo by searching through the document than reading it as a proofreader (the brain has an auto-correct facility, which is why proofreading is so much more difficult than one imagines.)

To instigate a nit search in Word, press the F5 key on your keyboard to get the Find and Replace window up:

Type in the search word and keep pressing the “Find Next” button until you have searched the whole document. You can also type the correct spelling into the “Replace” field, which is very useful if you decide to change a character’s name, for example.

This may seem rather tedious but it's well worth the couple of hours it takes, particularly if you are unsure of a word spelling. For example, “baited breath” is wrong “bated breath” is right – so look up any spellings you are unsure of in a dictionary, then add them to your search.

Below is a common nit/homophone check list – followed by a couple of tricks for spotting missing periods and uppercase errors in he said/she said dialogue tags (He said is wrong because the sentence has yet to end) and also how to fix “Yes Sir.” etc. to “Yes, sir.” (notice the added address comma as well).

advice advise
affect effect
aid aide
alter altar
an and
ball *bawl (*cry or shout)
bare bear
base bass
bated baited
begun began
birth berth
born borne (usually born)
brake break
breath breathe
breech breach broach
cant can't
chose choose
clamor clamber (ed) (ing)
compliment complement (ary) (ed)
conflicting conflicted
cord chord
council counsel
course coarse
creak creek
currant current
decent descent
de rigor = de rigeur
desert dessert (it's just deserts, not just desserts)
discreet discrete (ly)
disinterested uninterested
dominate dominant
draft draught drought
dual duel
dye die
each other *one another (*more than two)
elicit illicit
elude allude
exited excited
fair fare fear (ed)
flair flare
forbid forbade
form from
forward *foreword (*introduction in a book)
four for fir fourth forth
hanger hangar
hoard horde
hurtled hurled
if of or
its it's
jam jamb
knight night
know known
lay lie laid
leach leech
led lead
lessen lesson
lets let's
lightning lightening
lose loose
main man mainly manly
meat meet mete
mined mind
miner minor
misled mislead
mother lode (not mother load or motherload)
nit knit
of off
pail pale (it's beyond the pale)
pair pear pare
palate pallet
past passed
peak peek
pedal peddle
pour pore poor
principle principal
profit prophet
queue cue
quit quite quiet
rack wrack (ed-ing) (nearly always rack)
rained reigned
raise raze
ran run rub
retch wretch
rode road rose rise ride
roll role
safe-deposit box - not safety
sang sung
she he
shear sheer
sigh sign
site sight (and cite)
slight sleight
spilt split
stationery stationary
straight *strait (*narrow water channel or difficulty--usu. pl)
Styrofoam (insulation block) polystyrene (cup)
suite suit
team teem
the they
their there they're
then than that
though thought through tough
to too two
vain vein vane
*vise vice (*clamping device - U.S. usage)
wet whet (it's whet your appetite)
where were we're
who whom
who's whose
wrung rung rang
your you're

F5 searches: To find and replace hyphens for en dashes: type into the “Find” field: a space a hyphen and a space and type into the “Replace” field: a space, then select “en dash” from the “Special” menu and then type in another space. It is advisable to click through using the “Find Next” button and replace them as you go through rather than all at once. You can also type in a space then ^= then another space as can be seen in the picture below.

The same can be done to replace double hyphens, usually with an em dash: type in two hyphens in the “Find” field and select em dash in the “Replace” field (or type: ^+).

To find He said She said uppercase errors use the “Match case” checkbox as in the picture below *but remember to uncheck this box for other searches*.

Use “Match case” to find uppercase errors of the term “sir”, which should almost always be in lower case, Type in: Sir – at the same time check for missing address commas, which are common in short dialogue; e.g. “Yes, sir.” is correct, not “Yes sir.”

Missing periods at the end of paragraphs are common and hard to spot; in the "Find" field, select "Any Letter" and "Paragraph Mark" from the "Special" menu, or type in ^$^p and search for them using the "Find Next" button.

Missing periods and commas at the end of dialogue: We have to make two searches ("Find Next") to identify these. To find them in the middle of paragraphs, type:  ^$" and a space character into the "Find" field.

To find them at the end of paragraphs type: ^$"^p 

The former search will also identify quotation-type instances (e.g. John said I was "fussifying" things but I was just being careful) so care should be taken. These two searches will not work if you use single speech marks.

Missing spaces after commas and periods:

To find missing spaces after periods, type into "Find":  ^$.^$ (or Any Letter then a period then Any Letter if using the "Special" menu).

To find missing spaces after commas, type into "Find":  ^$,^$ (or Any Letter then a comma then Any Letter if using the "Special" menu).

Compound number nits are common (e.g. twenty three should read twenty-three) and the way to check for these is to type: twenty and then a space character in the "Find" field; this will make them easy to spot (follow up with thirty thru ninety).

Backwards speech marks after dialogue intervention en or em dashes are common because Word requires that the closing speech mark is added *before* the en/em dash is inserted: e.g.:

“Sorry, James, but–“

“Sorry, James, but

To find these for en dashes, type ^="^p into the "Find" field (or use the "Special" menu to select the en dash and paragraph mark) and for em dashes, type: ^="^p

Once we find and fix the first occurrence in the search (by adding the closing speech mark first, and then backspacing to add the en/em dash) we can copy it (Ctrl and C) and paste it (Ctrl and V) over any following reversed speech marks that occur as we use the "Find Next" button to identify them.

For advanced users of Find/Replace there is a trick to do it globally:

First, check there are no # characters in the document, if not, type into the "Find" field either the en or em dash characters and a speech mark and a paragraph mark: ^="^p or ^+"^p and replace with: #"^p

We then select the "Replace All" option.

The next step is to replace all the # characters we just put in with an en/em dash: put a # character into the "Find" field and an en/em dash into the "Replace" field (^= or ^+)

We then select the "Replace All" option.

I hope this article is of use to you, and if you have any tips of your own please leave them in the Comments box (or any other common typos you are aware of).

To clean up formatting nits, please see our Eradicate Manuscript Nits article first, which will result in a more accurate search of all of the above, and also our Layout Tips article, which has a free Word template download that is Kindle/epub friendly.

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  1. I use 'find next' 'replace' and 'replace all' extensively for changing styles and formatting too. It's a very useful tool used carefully. thanks for the tips!.

    1. Thanks! There are many more tips for advanced formatting, such as resetting centered text after setting a global indent, and I may post an additional article if there is sufficient interest.

  2. This is great. Don't suppose you have a "find wrong short of apostrophe or quote do you?"

    1. The only way to do it globally is to change them all at once:

      Go to:

      AutoCorrect options
      in: AutoFormat & also AutoFormat as you type:

      check or uncheck "straight quotes" with "smart quotes" to suit which quotes you want to use, then:

      Type a " into both find and replace fields and select replace all


      Type a ' into both find and replace fields and select replace all

      To find the odd ones, one by one, and replace manually (the replace option does not work) you can use a Word doc I use to block on the straight/curly quote, paste it into the Find field and Find Next to locate them one by one and manually replace them.

      If you want this simple doc, drop me a line and I'll send it to you (anyone).

  3. That is so awesome. Thank you so much.

  4. WOW! This is incredible. Bookmarking for future use.

  5. Very helpful article! I plan to share it.

  6. Wow. So much great info here. Thank you!

  7. This is a great list of common errors to look for! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks, Darlene! It's amazing just how hard it can be to eradicate nits, given that the brain has an auto-correct facility while one is reading...