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Feb 20, 2009 11:48 AM

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.