Word 2004 Tip: Selecting a sentence

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Microsoft
March 21st, 2005 • 6:39 am

And now for a bit of Microsoft-sponsored fun…

For years I have been lamenting the lack of “smart” selection tools that would let the user select actual sentences of text rather than just words, lines or entire paragraphs.

Today I decided to take a few minutes and try to find if there wasn’t, by any chance, a feature buried somewhere deep inside Microsoft Word that would actually let me do that.

So I went to Word’s Help feature and typed “sentence” in the Search field. The search returned a number of irrelevant results, as usual. For example, the search results included the help page titled “Welcome to Microsoft Word Help“. I looked through that page and couldn’t find a single occurrence of the word “sentence”. What can you do?

Among the many results that referred to Word’s hopeless grammar checking tool, I found a reference to a page titled “Keys for editing and moving text and graphics“. (Everyone I know says “keyboard shortcuts”, but Microsoft says “keys”. What can you do?)

This page titled “Keys for editing and moving text and graphics” was rather long. I started reading it, but quickly found that looking for the word “sentence” in there was like looking for a needle in a haystack.

It being a Microsoft program, the help feature itself is rather helpless. When you are faced with such a long page and looking for the section of the page that actually contains the searched word, Word doesn’t highlight the found occurrence for you. And you cannot search for it inside the page either, since the Search field can only be used to search through the entire Word help documentation.

The occurrence of “sentence” in this particular help page wasn’t in any of the more obvious places (if anything can be described as “obvious” in Microsoft’s universe). For example, I looked under the section “Select text and graphics“, but I found no reference to sentences there.

I finally gave up and decided to select the entire page and copy it to a text editor where I might be able to search for the word “occurrence” in the text. But how do you select the text in a Word help page? “Select All” (cmd-A) doesn’t work, because the Help window in Word is actually a palette (don’t ask why) and, while this palette is open, half of the focus of the user interface stays on the Word document window you are currently working on. So when you are in the Help palette and press cmd-A, Word actually selects… the contents of the Word document that you are working on.

So then I tried to select the text of the help page with the mouse. I clicked at the very top and started dragging down… Even though my default selection colour in Mac OS X is a shade of green, Word decided to highlight the selection in black. Fine… Then, as soon as my selection extended beyond the visible portion of the help palette, two things happened:

  1. the selection became invisible (the black highlighting colour disappeared!)
  2. Word started scrolling down the page, and then stopped immediately (even though my mouse was still below the bottom edge of the help window)

This is really too pathetic to be true.

I ended up discovering:

  1. that the text remains selected even though the selection highlighting disappears
  2. that in order to force Word to continue scrolling down the page and extending the selection to the very bottom of the page, you have to never stop moving the mouse pointer!

This means that I was eventually able to select the text of the entire help page by doing so blindly and with a continuous circular mouse movement below the bottom edge of the help palette window!

How ridiculous is this?

Anyway, to make a long story short, I was finally able to select the entire text, copy it to the Clipboard, paste it in a document window in TextEdit and search for the word “sentence” in this help page. And I finally found it, under the “Extend a selection” heading. (I don’t see why the method to select a sentence is filed under “Extend a selection“. I don’t want to extend the selection to include a sentence. I want to select a sentence, period. But never mind…)

This section says that the F8 key can be used to “increase the size of a selection” and that you can press “once to select a word, twice to select a sentence, and so forth“.

And the bottom-line is that this works. If you place your insertion point somewhere inside a sentence (without selecting anything, contrary to what the help text seems to imply) and press F8 three times, then Word selects the sentence within which the insertion point is currently located.

But it’s not over yet. What F8 actually does is that it activates that is known in Word as the “Extend Selection” mode. It’s one of those small green dots at the bottom of your Word document that you normally never pay any attention to. Press F8 once and you’ll see the green dot next to “EXT” come on.

This mode is a totally weird, Microsoft-only thing. I don’t really want to know exactly how it works and who came up with the idea. But the important thing to know is that, once you’ve pressed F8 three times to select a sentence, you need to exit the “Extend Selection” mode. Otherwise, all kinds of very strange things will happen to you.

Fortunately, exiting the mode is simple: just press the Escape key once. Phew!

In short, there is indeed a way to select a sentence in Word: press F8 three times in a row, and then quickly press Escape before running the risk of losing your sanity.

Amazing, but true. And I might even actually use this.

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