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How to find emoji in Microsoft Word and the bugs to avoid

Finding emoji or any high value Unicode symbol is difficult in Microsoft Word because of bugs in the software.  We’ll explain the only reliable way to find emoji and the problems with the features that should work, but don’t.

We’ll start with the best answer we can find. It’s not a perfect solution but it’s what Microsoft has left us.

Find the font, not the emoji

As you’ll see later in this article, Word’s standard search options either don’t work or aren’t 100% reliable.  Emoji or symbols might not show up in Find the way they should.

The most reliable option is to find the emoji font instead of specific emoji.  Go to Advanced Find from the Navigation Pane.

Leave the search box blank, select the emoji font from Format | Font

That will find all symbols using the emoji font which, as you’ll read later, isn’t always the case in Word.

Of course, this search finds all emoji/symbols in that font, not a specific symbol.  But it’s what’s available.

Emoji fonts

In Windows, emoji usually appear with the Segoe UI Emoji font. That’s the font Word will automatically use for emoji.

On Mac computers, the equivalent font in Apple Color Emoji

Keep in mind that other fonts with emoji symbols could be used instead.

Find the emoji doesn’t always work – a Word bug

Searching for emoji or symbols via copy/paste into the search box should work but it’s not 100% reliable. You might miss symbols not caught in Word’s buggy search.

Have a look at this search for the Grinning Face emoji 😁.  The emoji is pasted into the Find box (left) but Word only finds two of the three emoji in the document.

Three emoji, all apparently same, but Word can only find two of them. Why?  The first one was inserted by the Windows Emoji Panel, the other two using Word features (Alt + X trick and Insert | Symbol). 

It’s a bug in Word caused by the way emoji are saved differently depending on the way they are inserted.  A long story for another time. 

Use ^unnnnn to find emoji – nope!

You might think that the ^unnnnn special search method would work.  This lets you enter the decimal Unicode number for a symbol.  For example, searching for ^u0036 or ^u36 will find the $ symbol because its Unicode number is 36 in decimal/Base 10.

But that hits another bug in Word!  Searches for high value Unicode numbers don’t work.

^u128512 should find the Grinning Face emoji (Unicode Hex: 1F600 or Decimal: 128512) but it doesn’t.

The reason for this bug is probably the way Word handles Unicode symbols like emoji. It seems the symbols are saved in UTF-8 format but stored in memory as UTF-16.  UTF is Unicode Transformation Format which can be 8, 16 or 32-bit.

You need to search for the symbol in the way Word stores that symbol in memory. For UTF-16 that means combining two Unicode values in a search like this ^u55357^u56833

But, as you can see above, such a search still only finds two of the three examples of the same emoji.  Grrrrr.

Why?  Grinning Face emoji is Unicode Hex: 1F600 but in UTF-16 it’s saved in two bytes 55357 and 56833 in decimal.

Find the UTF-16 decimal value for a symbol

Some web sites have listings of emoji with technical details like UTF-16 decimal values, try for example.

Or use where you can paste in an emoji and see the UTF-16 decimal version (choose the correct options).

Decimal not Hex

Another problem with ^unnnnn searches is they still use decimal values.  That was OK when this feature was added to Word (last century?).  These days Unicode has greatly expanded and most systems use Hex (Hexadecimal/Base 16) which is more compact.  Even Word itself uses Hex codes in some places (Alt + X, Color Codes and Insert | Symbol) but not in Find.  Grrrr.

Microsoft could add Hex value searches by implementing the x prefix, which is how HTML entities work now.  For example the 😁in HTML is coded as 😀 (decimal) or 😀 (Hex), the ‘x’ prefix denotes a hex value to follow. Another, more consistent, option would be to use the # symbol e.g. ^u#1F600 , that would match the common way hex values are written.


Many thanks to Office Watcher Martin Bonner for his suggestions and tests that helped us complete this article.

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