Typing Special Characters

If you need to type special characters, such as letter variations or symbols, you can use one of several different methods. For letters with accent marks, you can just hold down the key on your keyboard. You can also learn special keyboard combinations. For other symbols you can use the Character Viewer to special for them. You can also save characters you use often for easy access.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: Typing Special Characters.

Hi this is Gary with MacMost.com. On today's episode let's look at how you can type special characters on your Mac.

Let's look at how to type all sorts of special characters. Anything that is not standard on your keyboard. We'll start at the beginning here with simple variations of characters usually with accent marks and such.

In Yosemite, and Mavericks before it, it is very easy to type these. All you need to do is pick the root letter, like say an e, and instead of tapping it on the keyboard tap and hold down. You get this little menu here of all the different variations. Then you can use the number underneath it to get the one you want.

So, for instance, I can tap 1 on the keyboard and I get that. I could have also selected it with the cursor to get it. So it is very easy to do that with any character like for instance a Y or Z. Anything that has got a special variation will pop-up with this. You don't have to remember any special keyboard combination or go to any special place to get it. So for most text that you need to type in most languages that use Latin characters you can very quickly get these special characters that way.

Now if you've used Macs for a while you may remember there is a special way to bring up these characters using the Option key. For instance I can type Option e and you see an accent mark appear and it is actually highlighted in yellow. Then I can type the letter e and it puts it above it. You can do Option e again and type an a, for instance.

Now the way to know these is to find a website that lists them all and kind of memorize them. But you can also bring up the Keyboard Viewer. We're going to use both the Keyboard and Character Viewer a lot in this. So let's go and add those.

We're going to go to System Preferences, go to Keyboard, and under the keyboard setting select Show Keyboard & Character Viewers in menu bar. You will see this icon appear here that allows us to bring those up. So now we can go and bring up the Keyboard Viewer and this keyboard is something used to type when clicking on it with the mouse but you can also see how it reacts when you hold down the Shift key or the Option key.

Here this clearly shows the special keys that have accent marks. If I want to add this type of accent mark to any letter that uses it you can see it is the i key, Option and i.

So over here I will do Option i and then type i and I get that character. So it is a quick way to learn these by using the Keyboard Viewer just to see which key turns orange when you hold down the Option key.

But what if we wanted to go further than that and type all sorts of odd characters that aren't just simple variations. Well you can use the Keyboard Viewer here and say look at the Option key and find things like the registered trademark symbol, there's pi. You can do combinations like Option and Shift and find even more things, like there's the Apple symbol which is Option Shift and k. You can do that but it will only reveal just a few that you can easily type.

To reveal more you want to go to the Character Viewer. The Character Viewer brings up this whole control panel here that allows you to explore all the different characters and all the fonts on your machine. You can select something like say Arrows over here and see all sorts of different arrows. If you want to type one all you need to do is double click it and it will insert it wherever it is you are typing.

Now what is listed here on the left can be changed. So if mine looks different than yours all you need to do is to go to this settings menu here, customized the list, and you can see things that you can add or remove from the list. There is all sorts of different types of things that you can add here like Braille patterns, different arrows, Dingbats, all sorts of different things. Once you do it changes the menu over here. So I click on Dingbats and now we see all these cool little special characters.

If I select them not only do I get a larger view over here but I could, as before, double click to add it. I can even drag and drop as well. So there is a lot of different things you can do. You can select variations on here. So I see Webdings here but I can do Webdings 2 going through all the different fonts that I've got installed on my Mac to see what is available.

Now you can also search for characters. Search works reasonably well. You will notice that some of these characters include some special text that accompanies it that will help in searches but others do not. So, for instance, if we're looking in Webdings here for things and we look at this and we want to search for house it doesn't come up. But we do get a couple other variations and you can see that's kind of in the name there like that.

So sometimes if you are looking for something special you can find it by searching. Other times you can't but you do have the ability to add things into your favorites. You've got your Recently Used, you can see ones I've recently used here. But also if we go into Emoji here and we want to add something to Favorites we can drag and drop into Favorites there and it will appear. So now we can easily find it next time instead of searching for it in here just by clicking on Favorites to see it listed.

So you can also go in and search for something and then find variations on it. So, for instance, we look under Bullets here and we want to find some sort of special bullet character we can see related versions of it and variations. So there is different types of bullets. Sometimes variations are very similar to the one you've got but they are just done with different fonts. So you can choose which font you are going to be accessing. Say I want to use the Arial one right here as opposed to using the one inside dingbats.

You want to be careful when using some of the characters as they don't always work in all applications. For instance these full color ones, like the Emoji ones, work fine under TextEdit under Yosemite. If I were to switch to Pages, and use the old Pages, you can see I drag and drop and it won't work. Old Pages won't support that. The new Pages, however, does support it.

Comments: 20 Responses to “Typing Special Characters”

    J. G. Tuender
    4 years ago

    how to type ‘alpha’? the omega is there: ∞ !

      Jack Poulter
      4 years ago

      If you go to the character viewer and enter “alpha” in the search window (top right corner) it will show the symbol. I don’t know the keyboard method.

    4 years ago

    Very helpful…thanks for another great lesson!

    4 years ago

    Holding down those keys on my (wireless) kb does not pop up the key variations. Is there any other requirement? I am using a Mac mini late 2012 with Yosemite.

      Andrew Murr
      4 years ago

      When I’m in Facebook, I click on special characters in edit, in the case of typing someone’s name like Andre, which has a apostrophe above the e. I highlight the required character and click insert and hey presto.

    4 years ago

    This was very helpful. I did not know about the keyboard and character viewer even though I’ve been using Macs since the Mac Classic.

    4 years ago

    Oh yeah! Thank you! Not long after purchasing my first iMac I accidentally discovered the utility of holding down a letter on the keyboard to see additional options, but I did not know how to get things like ß, which I recently needed and felt dumb for not finding or figuring out. As I don’t know German I didn’t even know what to call the character to look for it on Google.

    I’m going to go fix that document right now!

    4 years ago

    How can I get back the ½ and other fractions? On new Macs this is not available.Yes it is in the character viewer but it used to come up automatically because it was in the system preferences under Language and region > Keyboard preferences > text.

      4 years ago

      Usually they appear automatically when you type the characters, like 1/2. But it depends on the app you are using and also if you have that enabled in System Preferences, Keyboard, Text.

    4 years ago

    To make an e with an accent as in Andre, just type “Option and ‘e’ together and then the e. “é”
    Swedish å is Option and a, Swedish ö is Option u and then o, Swedish ä is Option u and then a. Many combinations like this already built in. I use them all the time.

    Jeannine McCullagh
    4 years ago

    Where can I find the command symbol?

      4 years ago

      In the Character viewer, look under Technical Symbols.

    4 years ago

    That was great Thanks

    Linda DesGroseilliers
    4 years ago

    *Great* tutorial! Wish I’d known about this a couple of years ago. It would have saved me a lot of time! Thanks!!

    4 years ago

    WOW!!! Great tutorial. Thanks so much. So very helpful and a wonderful surprise.

    4 years ago

    where is the interrobang (exclamation point superimposed on question mark?

    4 years ago

    Is this just for pages? or Text edit. What about Word?

      4 years ago

      These should work in any and all apps. But some apps my use simpler text entry fields or restrict the font you are using. When in doubt, simply try it.

    4 years ago

    This is a supremely useful function. How can we petition the Mac decision-makers to add ‘ą’ to the options for ‘A’? (I ask because all of the other special characters for Polish are available by holding the key–why not ‘ą’?)

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