How to create fractions in Word
In some cases, Word automatically converts text you type into fraction characters. Unless you have disabled the feature on the AutoFormat As You Type tab of AutoCorrect Options, whenever you type 1/4, 1/2, or 3/4, Word substitutes the ¼, ½, or ¾ font character. These three characters are found in virtually all fonts, so this feature works reliably. Users often ask whether it is possible to get Word to “create” other fractions in a similar format. Well, yes and no. This article discusses several approaches to creating fractions:
There are several ways to create fractions in Word, but only one of them will produce fractions in the same style as ¼, ½, and ¾. Luckily, if what you need fractions for is recipes, this way will suffice. As you can see from the screen shot below, many fonts include the characters for ⅓, ⅔, ⅛, ⅜, ⅝, and ⅞. These, along with ¼, ½, and ¾, should be all you need for typing most recipes.
As shown above, these characters appear in the Number Forms subset of Unicode fonts such as Times New Roman, Arial, Courier New, Calibri, and Cambria. You can insert them from the Symbol dialog in Word 97 and above. To open the Symbol dialog:
In Word 2002 and above, you can also insert them using the shortcut keys shown (such as 2153, Alt+X for ⅓) or shortcut keys that you assign. In Word for Mac, you need a macro to insert Unicode characters. You can also assign keyboard shortcuts to them.
If you want these fractions to behave the way ¼, ½, and ¾ do, however, you will need to create AutoCorrect entries from them (see “Exploiting AutoCorrect” for instructions on creating AutoCorrect entries). The easiest way to do this, of course, is to create AutoCorrect entries to replace 1/3, 2/3, etc., with the equivalent font characters. That is what most users will do. But users sometimes type dates in M/d or d/M format and don’t want the date for January 2 (or February 1) turned into ½. They therefore disable the AutoFormat As You Type feature to “Replace fractions (1/2) with fraction character (½).” If you are one of those users, then choose different trigger text for your AutoCorrect entries. You could, for example, use 1;3 instead of 1/3. Once you have set up AutoCorrect entries for all six of these extra fractions, you’ll be all set to type recipes.
In addition to the fraction glyphs available in most Unicode fonts, you can purchase fonts that contain only fractions. For example, Adobe sells PostScript fraction fonts to match its New Century Schoolbook and Helvetica fonts. To use these, however, you would have to change fonts and insert the fraction characters using the Symbol dialog or a keyboard chart.
The most universally useful way to create ad hoc fractions is with the EQ (Equation) field using the \f switch. This creates a fraction with a horizontal line between the numerator and the denominator. Here’s how to do it:
For consistency, it is best not to mix fractions created this way with built-in font characters that use diagonal separators. In a document with varied fractions, use EQ fields even for ¼, ½, and so on so that all the fractions will be uniform.
Note that you are not limited to numbers in EQ fields. If you want to create fractions using words, you can do that, too. Suppose you wanted to represent a financial ratio such as the “acid test” (“quick ratio”):
To achieve this, you would create this field:
By default, the EQ \f field centers text above and below the division line, and the alignment switches available to some other EQ fields do not work for fractions. Text can be aligned manually, however, by adding spaces to the numerator or denominator as required.
Formatted font characters
For very large or unusual fractions, such as 1/10,000 or 23/250, an EQ field or Equation Editor object, which uses a horizontal separator, is appropriate and satisfactory. But for most common fractions, such as 1/6 or 1/9, users usually want what is called a “shilling” fraction, that is, one with a slanted separator, like the built-in ¼, ½, and ¾ font characters. There is no built-in way to create these, but you can simulate them with a little work. Here’s how:
Fractions created in this way may need some tweaking to look their best (experiment with the Spacing and Position settings on the Character Spacing tab of the Font dialog). If you’ll be using specific ones frequently, you’ll want to save them as AutoCorrect entries. Also, it is best not to call attention to their failings by mixing them with the built-in font characters. If you will be using this method to create fractions for 1/6 and 1/9, say, do it for 1/4, 1/8, and so on as well so that all the fractions in your document will be uniform.
Using a macro
Former Word MVP Steve Hudson has written a macro that formats characters automatically. It is suitable for use after the text has been created, to automatically format all of the fractions found in document. You can get it here (scroll down the page to find it).
Macros have also been provided by Graham Mayor and Greg Maxey. If you don’t know what to do with these macros, see Graham’s “Idiots’ Guide to Installing Macros.”
All of the methods above are aimed at creating fairly simple fractions, with a single numerator and denominator. At the other end of the spectrum, if you need to create complex mathematical formulas such as the one below, you need heavy-duty tools.
Word 2003 and earlier
Once Word’s Equation Editor is installed (see note below), you can use Insert | Object | Microsoft Equation 3.0 to insert an equation object. If you’ll be doing a lot of this, you’ll want to add an Equation Editor toolbar button. Open Tools | Customize and select the Commands tab. In the Insert category, scroll the Commands list till you find Equation Editor. Select the command with your mouse and drag it to a toolbar (or the Insert menu). (For more detailed information on adding buttons to a toolbar or menu, see “Customizing Toolbars” or “Customizing Menus.”
When you start the Equation Editor, its toolbar will be displayed:
You can select the fraction type you need from the “Fraction and radical templates” palette and then insert numbers in the spaces provided. You can also, using the other tools on the toolbar, create complex formulas such as the one in the example above. The Equation Editor applet has its own Help file, and you can also find helpful tips at the website of Design Science, which supplies the application to Microsoft.
Word 2007 and above
Recent versions of Word have a built-in Equation Editor created by Microsoft. On the Insert tab of the Ribbon, in the Symbols group, click Equation. There is a gallery of sample equations, but you can start from scratch with Insert New Equation. This will cause the contextual Equation Tools | Design tab to be displayed. The Ribbon has a palette of symbols, plus templates for various constructs, including fractions. There are also Math AutoCorrect shortcuts that can be used to create equations from the keyboard. For more information on the use of the new equation editor, see this article.
If you need more features than either of Word’s equation editors offers, you can also download a trial version of Design Science’s MathType, of which Microsoft Equation 3.0 is a cut-down version. If you decide not to purchase MathType at the end of the trial period, it will degrade into MathType Lite, a souped-up version of Microsoft Equation 3.0; you’ll still be able to edit the equations you created with MathType, and you’ll continue to have access to the full set of MathType fonts and symbols.
Fractions in running text
Whenever you insert a fraction that is not a font character, whether you use an EQ field or a combination of superscript and subscript formatting, it is likely that your line spacing will be expanded to compensate for the extra height. If you do not want this to happen, you have two options:
For most Equation Editor objects and for text “fractions” such as the Acid Test example above, it is preferable to “display” the text by putting it in a separate, centered paragraph (as has been done in this article).
Challenges for displayed equations
“Displaying” equations is a challenge when using the Microsoft equation editor in Word 2007 and above: If the paragraph that contains the (new) equation editor object also contains one or more characters of regular text, Word automatically changes the equation from “display” to “inline.” That reduces the font size of fractions and forces the limits of integrals and sums to the right of the symbol instead of above and below.
Even if you don't have any regular text in the equation itself, you may need an equation number at the right margin. There are two suggested solutions for this problem:
By “AutoText of a table,” Jay is referring to the first solution mentioned. You can create a single-row table with a dummy equation and equation number and save it as an AutoText entry for ease of insertion.
This article copyright © 2003, 2016 by Suzanne S. Barnhill. I am grateful to fellow MVP Jay Freedman for several helpful suggestions as well as the quoted portions.