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Mac hints and tips

Access special characters from the keyboard

You will sometimes come across a situation where you want to enter a character that you know exists, but isn't on the keyboard. For example, the copyright symbol, foreign currencies like the Euro, and the accented and other special characters that foreign languages use. How do you type these in?

Actually, all these characters can be input using the keyboard and it is simply that the symbols aren't printed on the keys. It would be far to distracting to have multiple symbols on each of the keys, so just the most common letters, numbers and symbols are shown.

It is obvious that the numeric keys 1-0 produce special characters when they are pressed with the Shift key held down, but what isn't obvious is that many other characters are available from all the keys on the keyboard when the Option key (labelled Alt) is held down and even more when Option and Shift are held down.

Mac OS X Keyboard ViewerNow you could try pressing the keys at random to see what characters they produce, but this isn't a good way to find the character you want. A better solution is to use the Keyboard Viewer utility. This displays a keyboard on the screen and when you press keys like Shift and Option or Shift+Option it shows the characters that will be produced when each key is pressed.

To access the Keyboard Viewer utility you first need to enable it. Click the Apple menu in the top left corner of the screen and select System Preferences from the menu that is displayed. Click International and then click the Input Menu tab. Tick the Keyboard Viewer option and make sure the option at the bottom is ticked: Show input menu in menu bar. Close the System Preferences window. You'll see a new icon in the menu bar over on the right hand side. Click it and select Show Key.board Viewer.

To see what characters you can type, press the Option key and the normal key symbols will be replaced by the ones that are produced with the Option key held down. Try it, open TextEdit and enter some text. Hold down Option and watch the Keyboard Viewer, then press a key and you'll enter the character. You'll see that some keys are orange and this means that if you Press them with Option held down and then press them again without option you will get another character. For example, Option+e, e produces the French accented e character.

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