Two ways to find accented letters in Word

How to find words with or without accented characters in Microsoft Word.  You might need to find both naïve and naïve or café and cafe.

There are many options in Word Find or Advanced Find but not the choice to ‘ignore accented characters’ or ‘treat accented characters as if not accented’.  (‘Find all word forms’ sounds promising but doesn’t do what we need here).

We wish there was that choice because would prevent search mistakes – for example searching for “ reelect “ which would miss “ reëlect “  or vice-versa.

Here’s two workarounds to choose from.  Even if you’re not worried about accented characters, these tricks show you some of the power in Word’s Find.

Single letter wildcard

Any Word search can include simple wildcard options.  They all start with the carat ^ character, here’s just two of them.

^$  – find any single letter  (A-Z a-z)

^?  – find any character

^$  is more useful for finding accented alternatives but there’s the risk that it’ll find misspellings like realect  or  raelect .

The ^$ ^? or other ^ searches work in Find and Advanced Find, the ‘Use wildcards’ option does NOT need to be on.

Finding one or more characters

There are more accurate searches available if you choose ‘Use wildcards’ from Advanced Find.  

In Word ‘Use wildcards’ really means ‘Regular Expressions’, a powerful text search/replace system … here we’ll use a tiny fraction of RegEx power.

In Regular Expressions any of the letters in square brackets will be matched.

s[ae]t  will find  sat and set but not sit.

na[iï]ve  finds both naive and naïve

If you wanted to find any accented vowel try:

  • [aäàáâãå] 
  • [eèéêë]
  • [iìíîï]
  • [oòóôõö]
  • [uùúûü]

Unfortunately, Microsoft’s version of Regular Expressions isn’t complete.  Some Regex options aren’t available in Word.

An example is the logical OR using the | symbol.  In normal Regex you can use [café|cafe] to find either spelling (ie. find café OR cafe ) but that choice is missing in Office.

The best solution

The best solution would be for Microsoft to add a ‘include accented characters’ option to Advanced Find.  That should not be hard.  It’s certainly easier than some existing Find options like ‘Sounds like’ or ‘Find all word forms’ or even ‘Use wildcards’.

Another possibility would be more carat ^ search options. For example ^a  could find lowercase ‘a’ including any accented variations. 

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