How do we uncheck a box on a PDF form we are editing in Preview?

I’m filling out a PDF that I downloaded from a U.S. government site that I need to send in to the local FBU (Federal Benefits Unit) office.

I accidentally checked a wrong box. But I can’t uncheck it!

I need to print it out, sign it, and mail it in.

What I ended up doing for now was overlaying the checkbox with a white square from annotation.

But is there a way to just uncheck box that I accidentally clicked on?



I don’t have a definitive answer, but from experience with using PDF forms and with writing code that outputs PDFs:

  • Forms made in PDFs often mis-configure checkboxes and radio buttons. Sometimes what looks like a single checkbox (Checked = Yes, Unchecked = No, or the equivalent), is actually configured to be like half of a two-part radio button set, but with only one of the two buttons showing - the “Yes”, non-default one. So once you’ve “checked” it, the other (“No”, default) button isn’t displayed, so you can’t “uncheck” the topic it’s attached to. I’ve also found button sets mixed up among questions on adjacent lines.

  • You might be able to uncheck it by pressing shift or option when you click.

  • Sometimes the only choice with this for you would be to download the form again and start over. Might not always be possible if the PDF was custom-generated for you with some info already filled in.

  • Depending on the App you’ve opened the PDF with, the change of checking the box might not stick until you’ve expressly saved the file. Apple’s Preview acts this way - if I check a box and then try to close the PDF, Preview prompts me to save; if I don’t save, and re-open the file, the box is not checked. Then it’s just tediously and vigilantly re-filling everything…

  • It’s worthwhile to let the form author know about the problem, if you can find contact info.

Sorry this doesn’t help much.


I haven’t seen that. I just experimented with an IRS form, and I can check and uncheck boxes with no problem.

I’m guessing you are using Preview? If unchecking doesn’t work on your form, well, that’s what Versions are for. Back up to a Version before you checked the box.

That didn’t work, unfortunately.

The form author is the Department of Social Security. I’m sure they are all ears for my form rewriting suggestions. :slight_smile:

Anyway, I just went with covering it up with a white box for now. But weird problem.

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I didn’t check the box on purpose. There wasn’t time really to have versions. Oh well.

My experience with forms is to use the free version of Acrobat Reader and not to use Preview


As is mine. Preview just doesn’t seem to handle forms in PDF documents well. Acrobat Reader hasn’t had a problem with any document containing forms fill-in that I’ve thrown at it.


I just tried it with a copy of the PDF and Acrobat Reader. I cannot uncheck the checked boxes.

I can’t edit anything at all with the free version of Acrobat Reader. I have to upgrade to a paid version.

I also tried to just edit some text in a PDF I exported from PowerPoint using Preview and could not.

Is the original, unedited file publicly available on the US government site? If you share a link and specify the erroneously checked button, perhaps a few of us might take a look and see if there is anything obvious going on.

Since the final product will be printed, maybe old-fashioned “Wite Out” (with an initial next to the correction) would be an imperfect but acceptable solution.

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Yes, it’s publicly available. It’s this:

In my case, instead of “old fashioned whiteout” I used “more modern whiteout” by annotating it in Preview and covering the boxes I didn’t want checked with white squares.


Thanks. I assume the checkboxes in question are the three boxes below “This is a request for termination of”. I looked at the PDF source code (load it into a text-only editor).

It appear that these three boxes are radio buttons not check-boxes. And they’re not grouped. So there is no way to un-check them once checked.

Whoever created this form didn’t know what he was doing.

For those who may not be aware, GUI systems going back to the earliest days of Mac OS and Windows have two kinds of boxes that can be used for this role.

  • A check-box is a single item that may be checked or unchecked. Clicking it toggles its state.
  • A radio-button is meant to be used in a group with other radio buttons. Clicking one sets its state to checked, and un-sets all the other buttons in the group. One button must always be set at any time.

A form like this should be using check-boxes. But it isn’t. It created three radio buttons in three groups. So once checked, they can not be unchecked. Which is how radio buttons are supposed to behave if configured in this degenerate way.

The government person who designed this form needs to fix it. Its broken. Your reader software is not going to be able to fix this problem.


You can work with the buttons, but only if all your editing is with Adobe Acrobat Reader.


I see. OK. Thanks for checking!

Both Acrobat Reader and the full version of Adobe Acrobat are able to work properly with freshly downloaded copies of the file.

It seems that Preview breaks something in the PDF file. If the same PDF merely is saved by Preview, the button functionality breaks, even if the buttons were not touched. Once the file is saved within Preview, even Acrobat can’t work with the buttons any longer.

It’s possible that there is an inherent problem with the file, but a freshly downloaded file works properly with Acrobat (both Reader and Pro), including the expected grouping behavior, while it fails with Preview and Nitro PDF Pro (formerly PDF Pen Pro).

Using any recent version of Acrobat and a freshly downloaded file, I was able to work with the radio buttons properly, i.e., if you click on a button, any previously clicked button is cleared.

Apple Preview does not work properly. I was able to duplicate the behaviors that @doug2 described, with the additional point that simply saving a freshly downloaded version of the file in Preview broke the button functionality.

Interestingly, Nitro PDF Pro was able to de-activate individual buttons after they were selected in Preview, but again, the logic connecting the behavior of the buttons into a group was broken. Complicating things even further, on a clean file, Nitro PDF was able to activate a button once, but then if another button was clicked, the first button was de-activated, but the new button did not change to active, and no further clicking would activate any of the buttons.

Maybe there is a bug in the original file, maybe there are bugs in Preview and Nitro PDF Pro causing this behavior, or maybe all of the above.

I’d actually prefer to use programs like Preview or Nitro for completing fillable forms instead of Acrobat, but in my experience, neither are nearly as reliable for that purpose, especially for government forms.


I’m not so sure of that. Yes, Acrobat Reader groups the three radio buttons. But the form is still broken. It appears (from context) that you should be able to check more than one box. Note the text fields to the right, where you can enter three different termination dates for the three different kinds of insurance coverage.

Whoever authored this form shouldn’t have used radio buttons at all, but should have used simple checkboxes.

From a design perspective, I agree with that point.

From the technical perspective, the fact that three different PDF programs work differently with the same file, with one of them working “as intended” while two break the file in different ways, suggests that there is a technical issue beyond the choice of a page element.


Oh my gosh, I just did an SSI form yesterday. It had a 2 lines where you could write out why you shouldn’t be declined and as soon as you moved out of the section, only 1 line showed up. Including when printed. So I had to print it that way and hand write in the second line. I tried Preview and PDF Expert and it did it in both pieces of software. The Feds need to do a better job testing their on line forms.

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