Create Uncommon Fractions

Type 1/2 in a Word document and Word with automatically change that to stacked fraction, if you haven’t changed the default autocorrect settings. But type 2/3, and nothing happens. How can you get all fractions to match? It can take some expert typesetting.

In Word’s Preferences (Mac) or Options > Proofing from the File ribbon (Windows), go to the AutoFormat tab to set whether or not fractions will be replaced with a character when one exists in that font family.

The problem is that not all fonts contain a full range of fractions, so you might not be able to insert even a common fraction like two-thirds. The character viewer in the operating system and in Word’s “insert symbol” option on the Home ribbon used to show 1/4 and 1/2 characters, but those are not appearing at the moment.

Typography experts have explained elsewhere that sometimes we just have to insert a note to the typographer in a manuscript, saying that we want a true fraction. The typographer then has to create a kind of glyph (or maybe a ligature) from scratch.

It’s weird that 2/3 isn’t built in, but odd fractions like 4/9 or 11/5 will always have to be created from scratch.

Option 1: Leave a Note to Production

Be sure to tell your compositor/typesetter in a cover letter that these fractions need to be created. Also specify whether they should be stacked with a horizontal line or a slash. In the manuscript, you might help these stand out by setting them in double [[ ]] square brackets (which is easy to search and will most likely be queried by the proofreader so they don’t make it into print).

Option 2: Create Fractions with Equation Editor

Create your own fractions in Word using the Equation icon on the Insert ribbon. Just select the stacked fraction option, then click on each box (above and below the line) to enter the numbers. This does, however, create uneven line spacing.

Clicking Word’s Equation icon on the Insert ribbon opens this Equation Tools/Design tab on a Windows computer. (The Mac version is simply titled Equation. Click the Fraction icon to start.

Option 3: Brute Force Equations on Your Own

If creating a special character from scratch isn’t an option (e.g., this text is being typeset for the web) then you might choose to make all fractions plain old in-line numbers separated by a solidus/slash. Or, fake it:

Through a combination of super- and subscript with a slash, it is possible to fake your own fraction ligature. To set a fraction so that it looks like a character, set the 4 as a superscript and the 9 as a subscript (using the icons on the Home ribbon).

The good news is that this “works” in any font, and survives changes to the font and probably can be imported into design software with minimal fuss and/or formatting loss. The bad news is, this can look really weird in some font families.

Got a gnarly Word problem? Submit your problem and we’ll try to answer it in the Q&A thread.

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