I have a document that has some paragraphs formatted with a seemingly unchangeable first-line indent. In paragraph format, the left indent is zero, and first line indent is "none". When turning on "show paragraph marks", a tab character appears in the indent area. However it is impossible to delete the tab. It acts like it is the newline, and merges the text with the previous line if backspace used at the start of the line.

Setting the format to Normal does nothing. Clear Formatting does nothing.

This problem occurs on the line after a Heading 1 style. The properties of Heading 1 have "Normal" for style for following paragraph.

Inserting text elsewhere in the document does not exhibit this problem.

What is the cause of this "phantom tab" and how do I eliminate it?

  • Are you able to provide me with a copy of the document so that I may take a look at it and see what could be causing this? – SnookerFan Aug 22 '13 at 8:27

Do you have any tracked changes? I have found this behavior occurs sometimes where a tracked format change removes a tab character associated with line numbering. It does not show the tab in red with strikethrough, but it really has been deleted due to the format change. Once the format change is accepted, the phantom tab disappears.


I am working in Word 2013. Highlight the paragraph with the problem. Open Paragraph Settings. Click on TAB button. Clear any negative Tab Stop Position tabs.
Unfortunately, you have to do this each time this setting is set in your document. In other words, if some paragraphs have a negative tab set and some don't, the you have to go paragraph by paragraph to clear it. If several paragraphs in a row have a negative tab set, then they can be cleared together.


I had a similar thing (Word 2013) with a document I got from someone else. My suspicion is that it had to do with margins. The document had 'narrow margins' (menu > Page Layout > Margins > narrow) but I think it had a line copied into it from another document with 'normal margins' and thus copied that formatting. I could see there were different text sections in the document (that 1 odd line was a separate section). I made that visible via File > Options > Advanced > Show document content -> ticked the option 'Show text boundaries'.

The main thing was I could fix it by setting the Page layout to 'normal margins', so everything got aligned. After that just re-setting it back to 'narrow' would not work - I first had to save the document. After re-opening it I could set it to 'narrow margins' and the whole text was properly aligned. So it looks like copy/paste can bring along some funny settings from the source document. It is often safer to paste as unformatted text and copy the formatting from the surrounding text.

It's a bit of a late answer, but I hope it helps you and perhaps others, as I have seen more mysterious indent questions / posts on the net.



Can you copy the format unit and past it into a "find" box? If so, you could then "replace" the phantom tab with nothing or a space? Might be worth a try.

  • No, the phantom tab cannot be selected. If I put the cursor at the end of the previous line with "show paragraph marks" on, I can move right and select the end-of line for the first line with the first shift-right-arrow. The next shift-right-arrow selects the first character of the next line. The phantom tab is not highlighted or selected. – tim11g Feb 25 '11 at 22:33
  • I tried to highlight the section of text containing the phantom tabs. I search for the tab character "^t". Nothing is found. – tim11g Feb 25 '11 at 22:41
  • How about pasting the text (or offending paragraphs) into notepad or something. This will remove formatting. Then paste back into a new word doc. You'd have to re-make all the formatting you want, which might be a pain if it's a large document. – outsideblasts Mar 4 '11 at 9:18
  • Another thought: tell word to format the paragraph in a different way. This might reset the phantom tab and when you format to a desired format, the phantom should be forgotten. – outsideblasts Mar 4 '11 at 9:20

First try turning on show formatting marks in Microsoft Word. If you cannot see any character in that paragraph then almost certainly the problem is happening because you have first line indent set under paragraph settings.

Right click on the paragraph -> Paragraph Properties -> Indent -> Reset numbers there to 0.


You can try to just move the sentence downwards until you get to a point where you dont have to typ anything. Like on a blank page or something. It worked for me.


I had a similar problem on the first line of my word document. The thing was that I had a text box on my headers and it was pushing my first line text to the side, as if there as a "invisible tab" there. I have moved the text box and it was solved. Hope it can help someone!

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