Find and Replace Text or Numbers Using Wildcards in Microsoft Word

by Avantix Learning Team | Updated September 30, 2021

Applies to: Microsoft® Word® 2013, 2016, 2019 or 365 (Windows)

You can use wildcards in Word to find and replace text and numbers. This is useful when you are not able to find an exact match. To use wildcards, you will need to expand the Find and Replace dialog box.

Recommended article: How to Quickly Remove Hard Returns in Word Documents

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Finding and replacing using wildcards

When you use the Find and Replace dialog box in Word, you can select an option to Use wildcards. A wildcard can replace one or more characters in a string of text or numbers.

It’s important to note that wildcard searches are case sensitive. Also, Word uses “lazy” pattern matching so it will stop matching as soon as possible. This means that you could enter part of a word and find that part without using wildcards.

To find and replace text using wildcards in Word:

  1. Position the cursor at the location in the document where you want to start finding and replacing. If you want to start at the beginning of the document, you can press Ctrl + Home.
  2. Click the Home tab in the Ribbon and, in the Editing group, click Find. A drop-down menu appears.
  3. Click Replace. A dialog box appears. You can also display the Replace dialog box by pressing Ctrl + H.
  4. Select More to expand the dialog box.
  5. Click in the Find What box.
  6. Select or check the Use wildcards checkbox.
  7. Enter the text and wildcard(s) you want to use. For example, enter s*l to find any text starting with s and ending with l.
  8. Click in the Replace with box.
  9. Enter the text you want to use to replace the text in the Find what box.
  10. Click Find Next to find the first instance of the characters you want to find.
  11. Click Replace or Replace All. If you click Replace, Word will select the next matching characters in the Find what box. If you click Replace All, Word will display a dialog box with the number of replacements. In this case, click OK.
  12. If necessary, click Replace again. Repeat for each instance.
  13. Click Close to close the dialog box.

In the following example, b*s has been entered in the Find what box to find any word starting with starting with b and ending with s:

Find and replace dialog box in Microsoft Word using wildcards.

If you want to undo a Replace or Replace All action, close the dialog box and press Ctrl + Z.

Using common wildcards

The most common wildcards in Word are the asterisk (*) to find multiple characters and the question mark (?) to find a single character.

For example:

b*l will find ball and barrel (a character followed any characters and ending with a specific character)

h?ll will find hill and hall (a character followed by any single character and then followed by 2 characters)

Using wildcards to find one or more instances of the same character

You can also use @ as a wildcard to find one or more instances of the same character.

For example:

catchal@ will find catchal or catchall

Using wildcards for alternate characters and ranges

You can also use wildcards to find alternate characters or ranges of characters. These are entered in square brackets [ ] and may be combined with other wildcards.

[ ] can be used to find each of a set of characters

[ – ] can be used to find each of a set of characters in a range

You can use any character or series of characters in a range within the square brackets (including the space character). Characters are processed in alphanumeric order from lowest to highest.

For example:

[abc] will find any of the letters a, b, or c

[G] will find the upper case letter G

[A-Z] will find any upper case letter

[0-9] will find any single number

[13579] will find any odd number

[0-9A-z] will find any number or letter

f[ai]n will find each of the characters in square brackets such as fan or fin

[b-f]at will find each of a range of characters such as bat, cat, and fat

Using wildcards to omit characters

If you want to omit specific characters, you can use an exclamation mark (!) combined with square brackets.

For example:

[!f]ast will find last and past but not fast

Using wildcards to find the beginning or end of a word

You can use the less than symbol (<) to find the beginning of a word and the greater than symbol (>) to find the end of a word. These wildcards are combined with characters in round brackets or parentheses.

For example,

<(watch) will find watching or watchman

(all)> will find wall or stall

These wildcards can be problematic if you are using a wildcard and you want to find > or < as characters in the document. If this is the case, enter a backslash (\) in front of the character so that it is not treated as a wildcard.

For example,

\<*\> will find <h1> or <h2>

Using wildcards to find instances of a character

You can use curly brackets { } to specify the number of instances of a character. These brackets can be combined with a comma to specify the number of instances. Counting can be used with individual characters or with sets of characters.

{n} is used to find the number of instances of a character

{n,} is used to find at least n instances of a character

{n,m} is used to find between n and m instances of a character

For example:

^p{2} will find two consecutive paragraph marks or hard returns (^p is a special character for a paragraph mark in Word)

{3} will find three spaces (there is a space entered before the first curly bracket)

30{2,} will find at least 2 instances of the preceding character such as 3000 or 30000

30{3,4} will find between 3 and 4 instances of the preceding character such as 30000 or 300000 not 300

These last wildcards are particularly useful if you are finding and replacing numbers in Word.

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Summary
How to Use Wildcards in Word to Find and Replace
Article Name
How to Use Wildcards in Word to Find and Replace
Description
You can use wildcards in Word to find and replace text and numbers. This is useful when you are not able to find an exact match. To use wildcards, you will need to expand the Find and Replace dialog box.
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Avantix Learning

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