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Typing accented characters

I often see people in minor (OK, very minor!) frustration out here because they want to write the name of a foreign food but don't know how to get accented characters to appear on the screen.

If you're using Windows, there's a simple trick that involves evoking the underlying ASCII code, a set of instructions that tell the computer what characters to reproduce on the screen. You have to be using a keyboard that has a number pad, and make sure that NUM LOCK is turned on (it usually is by default).

All you need to do is hold down the ALT key, press a four-number sequence on the number, then release the ALT key, and the character appears - voila! You can get things like é (ALT + 0233), ñ (0241), ç (0231), even £ (0163), € (0128), and ° (0176 - the degree sign, for use in recipes). The codes are different for lower- and upper-case letters.

I'm going to try to attach a little cheat sheet I made up for myself, hopefully it will be visible.

There's a similar trick for doing this on Mac-based machines, but I don't know what it is, I'm just an old PC guy. Hopefully someone else can post it.

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  1. Didn't get the cheat sheet to show up on first try - here's another attempt.

    Hmm - this time it worked but came out very small and too fuzzy to read, even when downloaded. I'll keep trying.

    1. Your ALT+4 digit solution is too complicated. Here's an easier one ( for Windows-based PCs ):

      Control Panel
      Regional and Language Options
      United States - International

      To type an accented character : type the accent first, then the character.

      (Exception: For ç, type ' then c )

      10 Replies
      1. re: RicRios

        Bu then how do you distinguish between different accents on the same character, like è, é, ë, ë, or ò, ó, ô, õ, ö, and ø?

        My method also allows you to produce these characters on any machine you happen to be using, even if you're not allowed to touch its Control Panel settings.

        1. re: BobB

          For each accent you use the corresponding key: ` ^ ' ~ , plus shift ' for umlaut.

          That's why the "International" keyboard option was created ...

          1. re: RicRios

            Cool! I'm not sure I'd find that simpler - you still have to remember a bunch of different key combinations - but people can use whichever of these they find more convenient. No more jalapenos - habañeros forever!

                1. re: BobB

                  Except, jalapeños are jalapeños, and habaneros are habaneros, with no ñ. (And I get most of these with three-digit codes, e.g., Alt-164 for ñ.)

                  1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                    Thanks, I thought habanero had the ñ. Interesting about the three-digit codes, that must be a different character map set. If I hit just the three significant digits of my four-digit code (241, instead of 0241) I get ±, not ñ. But ALT-164 works exactly the same as ALT-0241.

                    Do you have a link to a full set of three-digit codes?

                    1. re: BobB

                      I haven't found any links to three-digit codes. I'll paste in the list I have, which isn't complete (so the three-digit codes might not cover everything; I've left off non-diacritic, non-currency stuff).

                      The win character map greygarious points to is the only truly complete resource, I believe. It includes diatcritics for just about everything possible in the Roman alphabet, plus characters from many other alphabets - though not East Asian ones. For Vista users, you can put "character map" into the windows menu search box, and it will pop up on your desktop, plus it'll thereafter appear as a choice in the initial windows menu box unless you remove it.

                      My 3-digit code list:

                      Ç 128
                      ü 129
                      é 130
                      â 131
                      ä 132
                      à 133
                      å 134
                      ç 135
                      ê 136
                      ë 137
                      è 138
                      ï 139
                      î 140
                      ì 141
                      Ä 142
                      Å 143
                      ç 144
                      æ 145
                      Æ 146
                      ô 147
                      ö 148
                      ò 149
                      û 150
                      ù 151
                      ÿ 152
                      Ö 153
                      Ü 154
                      ¢ 155
                      £ 156
                      ¥ 157
                      ₧ 158
                      ƒ 159
                      á 160
                      í 161
                      ó 162
                      ú 163
                      ñ 164
                      Ñ 165
                      º 167
                      ¿ 168

                      Hmm, don't know why no € (I used alt-0128 just now).

                      1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                        Because the euro didn't exist in the pre-Unicode days when the original list of three-digit alt-codes were created. I know a few of the four digit ones, particularly ™ (0153), ð (0240), þ (0254) and of course € (0128), but otherwise I *always* use the three-digit ones, since I have been using them for the past twenty-plus years.

            1. re: RicRios

              ç ê è à ñ woohoo!

              I learned ascii ages ago and was frustrated when my WinXT compacq wouldn't accept it. Thank you RicRios! :)

            2. Here we go (I hope):

              £ 0163 ß 0223 Ï 0207 ï 0239
              ° 0176 ± 0177 Î 0206 î 0238
              À 0192 à 0224 Ñ 0209 ñ 0241
              Á 0193 á 0225 Ò 0210 ò 0242
              Â 0194 â 0226 Ó 0211 ó 0243
              Ã 0195 ã 0227 Ô 0212 ô 0244
              Ä 0196 ä 0228 Õ 0213 õ 0245
              Å 0197 å 0229 Ö 0214 ö 0246
              Ç 0199 ç 0231 Ø 0216 ø 0248
              È 0200 è 0232 Ù 0217 ù 0249
              É 0201 é 0233 Ú 0218 ú 0250
              Ê 0202 ê 0234 Û 0219 û 0251
              Ë 0203 ë 0235 Ü 0220 ü 0252
              Ì 0204 ì 0236 Ý 0221 ý 0253
              Í 0205 í 0237 Ÿ 0159 ÿ 0255
              € 0128

              OK, it's lost some formatting, but hopefully is still useful.

              3 Replies
              1. re: BobB

                Bob, buddy:

                Just to save you some typing - you can omit the leading "0" that occurs in every one of these shortcuts.

                1. re: KevinB

                  No, you can't - if you do you get completely different characters. See my exchange with Caitlin McGrath above. Turns out there is a three-digit ASCII code set, but it's different from this four-digit one that I learned back in the stone (DOS) age.

                  In the example given above, ALT-0241 produces ñ, while ALT-241 produces ±.

                2. Instead of carrying around BobB's handy cheat sheet everywhere you go… you can always just cut and paste the right character from another source (e.g. use Google to find a website with the correct spelling in all its diacritical splendor).

                  Or use a Mac.

                  Or write in #@%$* ENGLISH! OK, just kidding. But seriously, it is acceptable to leave the diacritics off when writing in English (insofar as there are any official "rules" about this) and it hardly ever causes any problems. I do find it silly when people apologize ("sorry, can't figure out how to type the funny accent!") because (1) it doesn't really matter, and (2) when it does matter, it doesn't take that much more time to find the damn character somewhere and paste it in. But the worst is when people go to all the trouble and then get the diacritics wrong.

                  Boy, talk about "Not about food".

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: DeppityDawg

                    Diacritical marks sometimes play a non-trivial role.

                    E.g., and tongue-in-cheek, a search in Spanish for "año" will produce results quite different than a search for "ano".

                    1. re: RicRios

                      Um, which cheek would that be? ;-)

                      I wasn't aware that non-Macs didn't have the keyboard combos for àccénts, ümlauts, circumflêxes and the like. You poor babies...

                      1. re: Will Owen

                        My older Toshiba PC laptop had a multinational keyboard with use of the Fn key. However, the diacriticals were hard to see (for old tired eyes), so I just use Character Map, or my word processor with these built in. To date, most translate perfectly in CH reply text boxes. Only complaint that I have is that my word processor can only be opened to one character set, at a time. I often wish for both Multinational, AND Typographical characters. Minor ding. If I get really frustrated, I'll just do it in InDesign, with the glyph's palette open. That covers all bases.



                    2. re: DeppityDawg

                      Hey, I didn't think I was going to save any starving children with this, it's just a minor thing that some people have occasionally asked how to do. You don't want to use accented characters, feel free to ignore the whole thing.

                      1. re: BobB

                        That was not my point, although there are certainly people who feel that way. Most people I think would probably like to use diacritics, but they are not prepared to fiddle with ALT codes to do it, and who can blame them?

                        Doesn't Windows offer something where all the characters available pop up in a table and you just click on the one you want to insert?

                        1. re: DeppityDawg

                          In Word, yes: Insert-Symbol. But this ASCII trick works in pretty much every program that runs under Windows. I'm sorry you find it too fiddly, I've been using it since the days of DOS and it's second nature now.

                    3. A simple trick that I use-- I go to Google translator, cut and paste. It works like a charm.

                      1. There is also the theory that if the reader cannot figure out what is written without the little squiggles, the heck with them because they probably do not understand the other parts of the posts.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: jfood

                          Wel, thets tru buht yoo cun probubbly reed thiss tu. Duzznt meen itts rite. ;-)

                          1. re: BobB

                            Cute. And sorry to take a semi-serious turn with a lighthearted comment, but what would a message board be without it?

                            The failure to include accents or to know how to render £s and €s onscreen is hardly comparable to what you've written. After all, we were all able to follow when you wrote 'habañero' as opposed to 'habanero' and we typically understand when someone writes 'jalapeno' instead of 'jalapeño'). I think when it comes to more accurately rendering the words, its appreciated, but hardly necessary, and can sometimes come off as affectation more than commitment. Do I refer to a meal in Muenchen, München, or Munich? When I write about Brussels, I happily embrace the American/English spelling rather than even dip my toe into the politics and choose between Bruxelles or Brussel.

                            Moreover, I find I am able to bypass the absence of accents, but continue to be annoyed by poor grammar and expression. I think hounds should master the apostrophe before taking on accents.

                            Also, I haven't found that the use of accents has done anything to place a dent into the US-centric aspect of this site. It's not really a problem for me, I acknowledge that most people here live in the states (with a few exceptions) but it can grate when pronouncements are made.

                            But finally, in regards to what you wrote, it has been determined that people can read most sentences (in English at any rate) provided the first and last letters remain the same. One can jumble the inside.

                            No, wait this is finally: Still thanks to BobB for helping people know how to render accents here. It's a nice thing to do!

                            1. re: BobB

                              Little jfood just had 4 wisdom teeth out and this reads just like she speaks.

                              1. re: jfood

                                I remember my own wisdom tooth extraction even though it was 15 years ago now(all 4 as well) not fun! I hope little jfood is better soon :)

                          2. I am a complete luddite but I do know that both Windows XP and Vista have the Character Map feature, accessed via Search>All Programs>Accessories>System Tools>Character Map. Short-cut it to your start menu and you don't need a cheat sheet.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: greygarious

                              Now that's more like it! But it's well known that the Luddites keep all the best hi-tech hacks for themselves.

                              1. re: DeppityDawg

                                I think I found it by googling for an umlaut.....I tried the alternative keys, which seemed too complicated. Not to mention that I am frightened of all those "Here Be Dragons" keys surrounding the QWERTY part of the keyboard! One of 'em that I occasionally hit by accident, and damned if I can find it, erases everything I've written and no, it's not the highlighting then backspace thingy. Barely know how to cut and paste; no idea how to drag and drop, other than when I'm lugging groceries up the stairs!

                            2. Ná mól an t-arán go mbruithear é (Don’t praise the bread before it is baked) I write a newsletter for the kitchen shop I work in. Right now we are using a templated service. It will alow me to use HTML but it can get difficult composing a sentence like the one above. My solution has been to compose in Word and then copy and paste into the templated form. It has certainly saved some hair pulling frustration. Thanks BobB I'll give your chart a try.

                              1. mac:
                                tilde ñ, e.g. hit alt/option key, then the "n" key (which will put the tilde, highlighted on the screen, without any letter "underneath") -- then hit *whichever* letter you want to put the tilde over -- the tilde-d letter will appear.

                                accent grave? é... hit alt/option key, then the "e" key, then *whichever* letter you want accented.
                                umlaut, haven't needed yet.... so you'll have to wait. ;-).

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: alkapal

                                  umlaut: do the same with OPT-"u" (as in Umlaut)
                                  cedilla: do the same with OPT-"c" (as in Cedilla)
                                  grave accent: do the same with OPT-"`" (as in, well, `)

                                  Fewer keystrokes, and easier to remember. Go Apple!

                                  1. re: alkapal

                                    mine then was accent "acute"! its been a long time since i audited french. ;-).

                                  2. Here's an online Alt character cheat sheet people can bookmark:

                                    AllChars, a freeware program for Windows, is another good solution:

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: carswell

                                      The first link should end with "html", not "htm".

                                        1. re: carswell

                                          But if you want to type Turkish, or Polish, or Czech… these code pages are missing quite a few characters.

                                          Still, memorizing or looking up 3 and 4 digit codes is just not very 21st century! On my iPhone if you touch "e" and keep your finger there, a menu pops up with "E È É Ê Ë Ę Ė" and you pick the one you want. I don't even know what "ė" is.

                                          1. re: DeppityDawg

                                            It's used in languages like Lithuanian and Tajik.

                                    2. BobB,

                                      That works great, except for the laptops, without a numerical keypad.

                                      On Windows machines, Character Map will do the same for you, though it is not quite as quick as hitting the Alt-combo.

                                      I do most of my composing in my word processor (as CH server looses too many posts), and just use it's extended character sets. To date, all but a very few, rare characters, have transferred perfectly.

                                      There is also a little freeware program (name eludes me now, and do not have it on any current machine), that will allow for hot-keys to be used/programed to create/type most multilingual characters. If I find the name, I'll post it to the link.

                                      In my layout and drawing programs, I have given up on the Alt-combo "cheats," as they now have a Glyphs Palatte, and I just grab them from there.

                                      Still, good and useful post.

                                      Thanks for posting,


                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: Bill Hunt


                                        There is a way to use these codes on a laptop, it's just a tad more complicated. you should see a set of numbers as "secondary function" characters laid out like a number keypad - on my laptop they're in blue (same as the function key), 0 through 9 being on the keys for m, j, k, l, u, i, o, 7, 8, 9 respectively. If you hold down both the Function and Alt keys and use these "keypad" number keys you get the accented characters per my list.

                                        1. re: BobB

                                          Since my current laptop has a numercial keypad, I have not explored this. On the old Toshiba, I had multinational, through the Fn key, but could not "see" the diacriticals! That is when I used the Character Map. Still cannot find the little freeware progam, that offers the full compliment of characters. Maybe I'll fire up the Toshiba, as I believe that that program is on it.

                                          Thanks for the tips,


                                      2. When I got a PC, I was very frustrated at not being able to use accent marks. I found out about the four digit ALT codes and was horrified. Between French and Spanish alone, that's at least 28 codes I would need to memorize, probably more if I thought about it. So then I discovered the International keyboard setting, and that works alright (although not in every application.) The annoying thing with the Int'l keyboard setting is that when I want to use simple quotation marks, they don't actually show up until I hit the space bar.

                                        On a Mac, it's infinitely simpler. There's a key assigned to each accent mark. For the acute accent, for example, the key is "e". You simply press the "Option" key along with "e", and then whatever vowel (lowercase or upper) you press next will have that accent mark. When I can afford to, I'll probably switch back to Mac for the diacritics alone.

                                        10 Replies
                                        1. re: Agent Orange

                                          You don't even have to memorize the key combinations to get accented characters on the Mac. Mac has a gizmo called Keyboard Viewer, which shows you layout of characters on your keyboard for your chosen language. You can use it to find the key combination for accented or foreign-language characters, or symbols.

                                          If you have a small flag icon (it will be a US flag if your Mac is set up to use US English) toward the right end of your menu bar, you already have Keyboard Viewer set up. If you don't see the flag:

                                          * Choose Apple menu > System Preferences and click International.
                                          * Click Input Menu, then select the checkbox next to Keyboard Viewer.
                                          * Select the checkbox next to the language whose keyboard layout you want to use.
                                          * If it’s not already selected, select the “Show input menu in menu bar” checkbox.
                                          * Choose Show Keyboard Viewer from the input menu (a flag or character) on the right side of the menu bar.

                                          Now you have an icon for Keyboard Viewer that's always accessible while you're using any application.

                                          To use Keyboard Viewer, click the flag icon and choose Show Keyboard Viewer from the dropdown menu. To find accented and foreign-language characters, press option, or shift+option, and the keys on the viewer will change to the character you'll get if you press option or shift+option plus that key. If the key shows up orange, you can put that accent on any letter by typing that combination, followed by the letter you want accented.

                                          Make sense?

                                          1. re: MsMaryMc


                                            Do yourself a favor and forget about it. Unfortunately, not all browsers will properly pick up those characters. Lots of times a simple quotes (") will appear as a dark triangle question mark.

                                            BTW- I refuse to support Bill Gates-n-MicroShaft...

                                            1. re: RShea78

                                              OOppss! I mixed up Bill for Bob or was that vise-vers-a?

                                              1. re: RShea78

                                                You know, Bob and I have the same problem!

                                                As stated elsewhere, I have only had a very few extended characters not show properly on CH. However, none of these was from the "normal" multinational, or typographical character sets. Just did some reviews where a lot of Hawaiian characters were needed. All displayed perfectly on CH.

                                                Now, the proper display (for me) is IE 7. Do not know how FireFox, or others might display them. Just as with Web design, one has to shoot for the majority of browsers, and hope that the others will do OK. I always test a design in about 5 browsers, but cannot hit every base.


                                              2. re: RShea78

                                                You're right about browsers - the only ongoing glitch I've found in Safari is that whole lines of italic, usually instructions of some kind, get rendered as gobbledygook, and on some chat boards everyday punctuation that some poster has sent from his Windex box often comes out as a strange set of letters and symbols. Didn't have these problems in Netscape, and I avoid Exploder...

                                                1. re: Will Owen

                                                  If your Mac can run Safari, Netscape and Exploder is too old anyway. Beyond 10.1.5 anyway as I skipped 10.2.x for 10.3.9 in my eMac. Forget them in the Intel iMac.

                                                2. re: RShea78

                                                  Usually you can switch the character encoding to get the accents to show up correctly. There are usually several choices to try and typically at least one of them will work.

                                                  1. re: queencru

                                                    Unfortunately, queencru, I did that, but it is only good enough for that one visit of the offending website. (If or when it works) I have to revert it back to "Auto-detect" character encoding in order to proceed to another website.

                                                3. re: MsMaryMc

                                                  Ms Mary Mac (sic), thanks a lot.


                                              3. easy! i love using this to screw with my friends' heads. for my macbook:
                                                ˜-option+n+a or n
                                                ç- option+c

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: RShea78

                                                  I just put "Character map" on my (Windows) desktop, and go to it anytime I need an accent, any of several foreign character sets (notably Greek), many dingbats, etc.

                                                  start→all programs→accessories→system tools→character map.