Overtype in Microsoft Word — horrible or handy?
Mac Tip #556, 17 October 2012
A lot of people use Microsoft Word. Usually they’re inserting text between or after existing text. But if you want to replace text there’s a technique called
overtype you may not know about. And if it’s accidentally engaged you could spend hours figuring out why your Mac is ‘broken’. Here’s where to find Overtype and what it does.
This Tip came about after an email from Sonia that said, in part:
when I start to type, each new character (including the space bar) deletes the one to its right. After I suggested she may have
overtype mode enabled she was able to find and fix the problem.
- Overtype mode replaces text ahead of it instead of inserting text before existing text.
- Overtype mode is found In Preferences, but maybe also in a Toolbar.
- Overtype mode could be accidentally engaged with a keystroke.
If this Tip was useful, please leave a comment letting us know. Want more detail? Read the full Tip below.
In most apps that deal with text, such as Microsoft Word, Pages.app, BBEdit, Scrivener and so on, you click in the spot where you want text to appear (or just at the start of a blank line) and start typing. As you type, any existing text moves away to make room for the new text that you’re inserting.
That initial click sets the
insertion point — the place where you’ll insert text.
Some apps, such as Microsoft Word, also offer a different way of inserting text. It’s called
overtype, and it does what the name suggests: it types over (and replaces) existing text.
For example, suppose you have the following text:
The news was bad for Barry.
You want to replace
One way to do that is to delete the word
Barry, make sure the insertion point is after the space at the end of the sentence and then type
Another way is to select the word
Barry and then just start typing. Anything you type replaces everything that is selected.
overtype turned on though, you could simply click before the word
Barry and start typing. Each letter you type replaces a letter that’s already there. Using Overtype, you don’t have to delete anything in advance.
Overtype is handy for forms
Have you ever downloaded one of those forms that helpfully makes a line out of underscore characters for you to type on? As you type, the line of underscores moves along, eventually wrapping on to the next line. To keep the page length right you may then have to delete the superfluous underscores.
That’s a perfect case of using overtype mode. Each character you type replaces an underscore.
Turn Overtype on and off
How you turn Overtype mode on and off may depend on the exact version of Microsoft Word you use. You may find it in Preferences, add it to a Toolbar or set up a keystroke for it.
Check the Editing Preferences in Word and look for a checkbox beside
To add a handy Toolbar button for
Control (⌃) click on a toolbar and choose
Customize. Then you can find the
Overtype mode button and drag it to a Toolbar. Click the button to toggle
Overtype mode on or off.
To add a keystroke find the
Customize Keyboard settings and assign your preferred keystroke.
Some keyboards may have an
Insert (Ins) key. Experiment with toggling the key to see if it affects
I wasn’t able to test this last suggestion as none of my keyboards have an
- How do I type over existing type (so that it replaces as I go)?
- How do I activate “overtype” in Word for Mac 2011?
- Overtype mode in Word for Mac 2008
- MS Word in my Office 2004 for Mac important feature