4 Ways To Type Superscript and Subscript On a Mac

If you need to raise characters above or lower them below the baseline, you can do it one of four ways. This is typically used in mathematical equations and chemical formulas. You can use the baseline adjustments in many apps, special superscript and subscript characters, commonly-recognized symbols, and the equation editor in Pages.
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Video Transcript / Captions
So let's look at different ways that you could make text Superscript or Subscript. What are these? Well, if you don't know Superscript is when text is above the baseline. You usually use it in math. So you're going to say seven squared you'd have the 2 there raised up. Subscript is when it's down below. This sometimes is used in math as well. It's often used for equations and for other reasons. So this is superscript and this is subscript. Now how do you type these on a Mac. There are a variety of different ways.

Here I am in TextEdit and I'm going to show you one of the most basic ways but it also takes a lot of steps and can be a little frustrating. Say I want to say something like seven squared. I would type 7 and then 2. The two is supposed to be the superscript. The squared part. Now I am using Rich Text formatting here in TextEdit. So it's not a plain text document. This is Rich Text. So I can stylize the text. If I go to Format, Font I can go to Baseline and there is the selection for Superscript and Subscript. So I can select Superscript. But I'm not done yet because all it does is raise the 2 up over the baseline.

But it doesn't look really good because the two is still the same size as the seven. Usually Superscript and Subscript are smaller. So I'm going to want to select this and change the size. If I change it too much, like you'd think maybe going half would be just fine, then it doesn't look good. So maybe something about 75% looks pretty good there. The same thing for Subscript. If I wanted to make that subscript instead then instead of going to Font, Baseline, and Superscript I would do Subscript and put it down below.

Now typically when you see in nicely typed set things superscript or subscript done this way it's also Bolded. So whether or not it's subscript or superscript bolding it kind of makes it look a little bit better. Then you may want to adjust and play with the font size a little bit. Sometimes you want to get it just so the number kind of lines up with the top there. So you have lots of different options, lots of different steps. There are other ways to do this as well.

One way to do it is to use Special Characters. There are special characters for numbers that are superscript and subscript. So I'll type 7 but I'm going to get a special character the same way I would get any special character or emoji. I'm going do Control, Command, and Space to bring up the Character Selector. I'm going to use the Search field to search for superscript. You can see there's a bunch of numbers here and a few other things. A little tic mark, and n. That kind of thing. So let's use the 2 here and you can see it puts a 2 there. That's a special character. That's not the normal 2 that you type with the keyboard. It's aligned perfectly to the top.

So this is a really great way to do it but you see you have a limited number of characters. So if you're doing a formula and you need to spell out a word or something or put like C or W or some other variable as the superscript then it's not going to work as well. But you can go and use these for say squaring a number. Notice that, of course, once I use this I get it there in my Frequently Used list at the top so it's a little bit easier to type. There's also subscript characters as well. So I can use the subscript 2 and you can see that it puts the 2 there below. Again, that's a separate character. These are two different characters and they are different than the number 2 that you are normally typing.

So there's another way to do it using the caret symbol. The caret symbol looks like this ^. On an American keyboard it's Shift 6. The caret symbol doesn't look good. Here's what seven to the second power looks like 7^2. It doesn't look but it's far more functional. It's more functional because it's used in programs that do math. That could be something as simple as Spotlight. So I'm going to do Command Space to bring up Spotlight. If I do 7^2 it assumes I mean to the power of two and I get the correct answer.

So when you're typing something in a program that's expecting a mathematical formula, it could be the graphing app or some other math app, using the caret symbol will get you that superscript when you're trying to do math. This is used so often that it's seen online in documents all over the place. So while this may look not as pretty you're going to see it a lot. Just do a search for math formulas online and you're going to come up with tons of websites that actually just put seven squared as that. So once you start seeing it all the time, of course, it doesn't look quite as bad. It's also great because if you're working in a plain text environment, say typing a plain text document or on some sort of system where you just don't have all these special characters then doing it this way will always work. You'll always be able to get it and most people that are looking at math will understand that the 2 is now superscript. It's now to the power of 2.

But I also wanted to show you that because you can actually get superscript characters. Let's go to a full fledged word processor, Pages. Now in Pages you can do the same kind of things. You can highlight the 2. You can Format, Font, Baseline and choose Superscript. You can use those special characters as well. But you also have the ability to insert an Equation. This brings up a little Equation Editor that uses two of the standard formats for typing equations. So you're typing a special kind of code here to actually get a result.

So if I type a number like 7, you can see here in the Preview below, it's going to put the number 7. If I want to type to the power of 2 I can type that caret symbol there and 2 and it understands and will translate this to 7 and then the superscript 2. In fact you can actually do more characters with this. Because what if I wanted to do 7 to the power of 23. Well, at first it looks like it doesn't work. I type a three and the three is below. But if you type curly brackets around something it groups them together. So then you can see I get 7 to the 23rd power.

So I can also put characters in here, letters. So I can put 7 abc up there and then I get those characters together which I wouldn't be able to do with special characters very easily. If you wanted to do subscript you can do the underscore instead of caret and it puts in a subscript. So you can do something like this, which is a little more complex, do Insert and it inserts it. This isn't text. This is a special little element here. You can see I select it and it grabs it. It's almost like a little image. Then the great thing is I can Copy that and Paste that into apps that don't have the Insert Equation function.

So I can go back to TextEdit here and I can Paste that in. It's not text. I can't select individual characters. It's like an image but it works. I can go, say, into Mail where there's no Insert Equation there either. But I can Paste that into a Mail message and it pastes in a little image there. So you can do complex math formulas with superscript and subscript in other apps as long as you start in a place like Pages where you can type in those special equations.

Comments: 7 Responses to “4 Ways To Type Superscript and Subscript On a Mac”

    Paul Lind
    3 months ago

    Can this method be used in writing music notes i.e. B(#) sharp or D(d) flat. ?

    3 months ago

    Paul: Yes, if you want to simply use the hashtag # symbol and lowercase B for sharps and flats and then adjust their baseline. But I think people prefer to use the specific flat and sharp characters for those. Control+Command+Space and search for flat or sharp to see those.

    3 months ago

    Microsoft Office & OpenOffice have a Format->Font->super/subscript option that raises/lowers the baseline and reduces the size in one step (your method 1, without bold however). The appearance is not as nice as dedicated superscript characters. And when copy/pasting into other apps the results are not ideal. I use superscript for citations in technical docs and it works okay for that, but the dedicated superscript numerals look much nicer. ThanksĀ²

    3 months ago


    I tried to insert the ‘pages’ version,
    but this field wouldn’t accept it.

    3 months ago

    Bob: Yeah, web forms typically won’t take images mixed with text.

    Norm Bradley
    3 months ago

    Help for the same subject in iOS

    3 months ago

    Norm: On iOS, in Pages, you can select text, tap the paintbrush tool, then tap the three dots next to B/I/U and adjust the baseline there. You can also tap + and choose to Insert an equation.

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