counting words
How to count words? - From left to right, top to bottom!

Different word counters can return different results despite them all counting the same text. On our algorithm page, we explained exactly why this is the case, and how you can create a word counter to suit your needs. However, many might want to use a pre-existing solution, so it is important to know exactly how each different word counters count words.

Please note that the rules below for Office programs are not exact, as there are many edge cases where the program may not behave as you would expect. As the code is not open source, there is no way for us to know for certain what these edge cases are.

Rules at

Separators at include space, and all common symbols such as the comma, @, : and etc. The only symbols that are excluded as separators are brackets, along with the | symbol. Acronyms when separated by a period (such as U.K. or U.S.A) will count as a single word. However, when you get more than one unit in between the periods, such as 615.12, then we count that as two words. Keep in mind that separators such as +, when entered on their own, will not count as a word!

“$615.12” (2 words)
“6 + 3” (2 words)
“I don’t think this is a bad idea” (9 words)
“I do not think this is a bad idea” (9 words)
“I live in the U.K.” (5 words)
“I live in the United Kingdom” (6 words)

Microsoft Office Rules

Microsoft Office (all editions) mostly keeps it simple; empty space counts as a separator. Anything else is counted is generally counted as a part of a word.

This means that Microsoft Office will usually give you the lowest wordcount. However, Microsoft Office also comes with tools that allow you to change the way you count words; these macros are for more advanced users, but can be quite handy for those who want to specify the exact definition of what counts as a word and what does not.

“$615.12” (1 word)
“6 + 3” (3 words)
“I don’t think this is a bad idea” (8 words)
“I do not think this is a bad idea” (9 words)
“I live in the U.K” (5 words)
“I live in the United Kingdom” (6 words)

Customizing Microsoft Office word count rules

While most people are aware that Microsoft Office is one of the most feature rich office documents out there, some might not be aware of the macro feature. In short, macros are executable scripts that you can run inside Microsoft Word. This means that as long as you can code in Visual Basic, you could theoretically make any word count script that you want and have Microsoft Word run it.

For example, in the old days before exact word counts, people using typewriters figured out the average number of words in a document by counting the number of units typed out, then dividing that figure by five. Some people may still need (or prefer) to count words with the above method, and you can do this inside Microsoft Word with this macro:

Sub Word count()

Dim Title As String

Dim Word count As Integer

Dim Message As String

Title = "Word count"

Word count = Int((Len(Selection) / 5) + 0.5)

Message = LTrim(Str(Word count)) + " word"

If Word count < > 1 Then Message = Message + "s"

MsgBox Message, vbOKOnly, Title

End Sub

• accessed 23 April 2021.

To use the above macro, or to make your own macro, follow the subsequent steps:

  1. Go to the View tab in Microsoft Office.
  2. Click on Macros, and then type out the name of your Macro, with no spaces.
  3. Click “Create”. A new window called “Microsoft Visual Basic for Applications” will open for you.
  4. In the main window that you see before you, delete everything in there, then paste the above code. Note that if you use the code above, then your Macro should be called Word count, or alternatively you could change the “Sub Word count()” part to be called exactly what you named your macro.
  5. Press Control + S to save your macro, then go to File, and press “Close and Return to Microsoft Word”.
  6. To run the above macro, highlight the text you wish to count the old-fashioned way, then click the Macro button in the View tab, then click “Run”.
  7. The results will be displayed in a dialogue box.

Google Docs

Google Docs counts almost all symbols as separator. The exceptions are“_”, “-“, and the apostrophe. There are also no exceptions when it comes to acronyms, so U.K will count as two words.

“$615.12” (2 words)
“6 + 3” (2 words)
“I don’t think this is a bad idea” (8 words)
“I do not think this is a bad idea” (9 words)
“I live in the U.K” (6 words)
“I live in the United Kingdom” (6 words)

Other Office Applications

As the market leader, Microsoft Office sets the standard for almost all other office applications, so they mostly follow its ruleset. However, unlike Microsoft Office, these applications generally do not have the ability for the user to change the rules of the word counter.

Which word counter is best?

In terms of immediate access, privacy, and ease of use, would be the best to use. However, for power users, there is no real answer for this question, as the answer differs depending on whatever organization is regulating your word count. As a rule, you could argue that if you want your wordcount to be smaller, you would use an application like Microsoft Office. On the other hand, if you want to appear to have a higher word count, you might want to use or Google Docs.

However, you can put all the various Office programs through an accuracy test, as long as you have some pre-counted sample texts beforehand. In many cases, Google Docs and will pull ahead of Microsoft Word when you include symbols for most accuracy tests.

To see some individual results comparing Google Docs to Microsoft Word in terms of word count, check out:

Best practices for using word counters

Given that every word counter performs differently, a user is left with a few options. Firstly, you could simply just trust whatever results your word counter gives you; this is fine for most casual users, such as bloggers, novelists, writers looking to optimize their search engine results, or graduate students writing essays. Most of these activities have a lot of leeway, and a wordcount limit is more of a suggestion rather than a rule that must be followed at all costs. In this case, the easiest solution will often be to use a cloud based word counter, such as, to count your text. This is particularly true if your text is not overly long and you need to quickly check the word count.

However, for advanced users of word counters, where being slightly off could result in fines or penalties of some kind, then you might want to act more carefully. The best way to process your word count would be to first look at all the rules you must follow, and then find a section of text that has already been counted by hand.

You can then paste this text into your chosen word counter, whether it is or any other application. Check the results to see if it matches the pre-counted number. Make sure to try text that have a lot of symbols in them, such as brackets, dollar signs, apostrophes and the like; it is always the symbols that cause word counters to return different results.

After you have found the right word counter for your task at hand, check your requirements to see if all text is counted, or if you can exclude sections like index pages. Some organizations will also include headers and footers, while others do not. If you are using an Office application to count your words, ensure that the proper options are ticked, and count each page individually by highlighting all the relevant text per page and looking at the wordcount result. If you are using an online solution such as, you should copy and paste each individual page, get the result, and then record that in the footer of each page.

Should you care if your word counter gets the wrong answer?

Minimum word counts were established to enforce a minimum amount of work from the writer. However, this has led to a brilliant example of game theory, in which writers and students who are given a minimum word count will try to “min-max” their scores by using various writing techniques in order to meet their requirements without actually creating better content. Naturally, this would include using different word counters as well to inflate their word counts! However, maximum word counts on the other hand, force the writer to be as concise as possible while still fitting in all relevant points, and as such can inspire better writing. This mostly applies to professional text such as legal briefings, CVs, technical manuals and other similar works.

As a result, when it comes to a minimum wordcount, it does not matter what word counter you use, as most word counters will not have great differences when it comes to counting words (unless you have a lot of data points that include floating point numbers in your work!). As minimum word counts are often related to student work, being within 10% of the word count recommendation will ensure that you are not penalized in any way.

When it comes to word limits however, using the right set of word counting rules can be crucial, and if your work is dangerously close to exceeding said limit with your word counter, it may be prudent to revise your text to make it more concise!

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• accessed 16 March 2021.

Word Counters
Word Counter Compte mots. Contar palabras. Quantas palavras Conta parole Wörterzähler. Woordenteller 字数计算器 Licznik słów. Сколько слов? μετρητής λέξεων عد الكلمات

Letter Counters
Character Counters

Count letters Character count Compteur de lettres. Contador de caracteres. Contador de letras Contare lettere. Zeichenzaehlen. Karakter aantal Licznik liter. Счетчик букв. Μέτρημα χαρακτήρων عد الحروف