How to Create Accented Characters on a Windows Computer


by Mark Wilcox


Windows incorporates a method to semi-logically be able to generate any of the accented characters without resorting to a reference chart, or, alternatively, type in a foreign language, typically western European, that uses our alphabet with accented characters, such as Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, and so forth – without learning said language’s non-QWERTY keyboard in order to access the characters.


The fact that it's useful means, of course, it's COMPLETELY UNDOCUMENTED.  Even stranger, it works essentially the same way in all versions of Windows.


The installation is the hardest part.







For all versions of Windows except XP:  In Control Panel, select Keyboard.


In Win XP only, select Regional and Language Options.


On the resulting window you should have a tab that either says LANGUAGES or INPUT LOCALES.  It's not selected by default, so select it now by clicking on it.


In Win XP only, select Text services and input languages, then the Details button.


This view shows you your language – typically English United States – on the left, and your keyboard layout – typically US, US-101 or some variant – on the right.


Click on the ADD button.  The language label you choose here really doesn't matter, but you could make it French, Spanish, German, Portuguese, etc., to designate the language's special characters you'll most often use.


Click on PROPERTIES (if necessary) to select the associated Keyboard Layout.  From the list, select United States-International.  This layout is what will enable you to easily type most accented characters.


Now comes the tricky part.


Normally, Windows will find the files it needs on your local hard drive, and will complete the installation when you press OK.  For systems that have loaded Windows off from a CD ROM, or have done an upgrade of Windows from a CD ROM, Windows may request the most recently used Windows Operating System CD ROM in order to find and load the needed keyboard files. Be ready to supply the CD if so prompted.  Once this step is complete, check the Enable Keyboard Indicator on Taskbar box.


Be sure that a checkmark to left of your original language/keyboard is present so that it will remain the default used.  If it's not there, click the original language/keyboard line to highlight it, then the SET AS DEFAULT button to move or cause the checkmark to appear.  Finally, click OK at the bottom of the window.


This completes the installation.



Selecting and Using the Keyboard




Now you'll see a new box appear on the taskbar, close to where the clock is located.  It should say EN, indicating your normal US English keyboard is in use.  (Please note that if the box doesn’t appear though all installation steps went well, try rebooting your computer.  So far this problem has only been reported on Win XP.)


First click on the window where you want to type the accented characters, then left-click on the EN icon.  It will present you with a small menu, enabling you to select the alternate keyboard.  This is how you toggle between keyboard layouts.  Note that, if you have several windows open, your selection will only affect the last active window before you change the setting.  The others remain unaffected until or unless you select, then change, them as well.  As you go from window to window, the icon will change to show the keyboard in use for the currently selected window, if applicable.


Usage Notes:


Now you can easily type any accented character via a 2-key combination, as follows:


To type the tilde over a letter, as in añañuca, el niño or la niña, type ~n.  In other words, type the tilde character by itself, followed by the letter over which you desire it to appear.  The tilde won't appear on the screen, but, as soon as you hit the letter, the accented character appears.  Should no such accented character exist, you’ll get the tilde and the character separately, just as you typed them.  Not every combination is “legal” or provided.  Hence,  ~ + a = ã, but ~ + i = ~i.  There is no “tilde-I” character.


Similarly, to type letters with the right and left (grave) accents, precede the letter with the corresponding single apostrophe.  Again, it will only work for valid combinations.


Hence, `a becomes à, 'e becomes é, and so on.  The letter only appears after both keys are pressed in the correct order.  Examples: Cancún, déjà vu, élan, cinéma vérité.


The circumflex accent is accessed via the caret, or SHIFT-6, key.  So, typing ^e yields ê.


Now you can type Narcissus X ‘tête-à-tête’ with all associated accents if you wish.


The 2 dots above a letter (French le tréma/German umlaut), as in naïve, are accessed by using the double quote key. ( " + i = ï )   Another example:  Noël.


The only odd thing to remember is the means by which you get the cedilla (small tail) on the C character, needed for both French and Portuguese.  It's sometimes seen on borrowed words, like façade, or expressions, like comme ci comme ça.  The right single quote is used to produce it instead of the comma, which would seem more logical.


Therefore, 'C = Ç. Français is an example.


To produce occasional accented characters, that's all you need to know. You can just toggle to the alternate keyboard when you need to type accented characters, then toggle back when through.  Although the instructions above may sound cumbersome on first reading, after only a few repetitions they become second nature.


Even better, since it's a Windows keyboard layout, it's universal, and will work in ANY native Windows program, be it Word, Outlook, Eudora, Internet Explorer, Netscape, etc.  You can forget all those strange keyboard shortcuts Word requires you to learn to insert accents, for example.



Extended Usage Notes:


For those who desire to actually type with the international keyboard as a means to write in a foreign language without learning a whole new keyboard, or simply write English heavy in foreign terms, there are a few additional things you need to know in order to make it practical.


Since the apostrophes, quote marks, caret, and tilde are used by the keyboard to determine which accented character to display, there's something special you need to do if you want to use them as normal punctuation while this keyboard layout is active.


If the letter following the punctuation is a consonant that doesn't take any accents, the punctuation will appear normally, but only AFTER you enter the consonant.  So, “won't” appears just fine, except that 't doesn't appear until after t is struck, whereupon they appear together.


Consider the word c'est. Typing the word with normal keystrokes, “cést is produced, as the apostrophe becomes an accent mark.  To have the apostrophe evaluated as itself, not a potential accent mark, simply hit the spacebar between the ' and the e.  The spacebar method works for all the special punctuation symbols.


In practical terms, if you hit the spacebar after punctuation regardless of whether it's followed by a consonant or a vowel you'll always get the punctuation rather than an unintended accent mark.


Use of this keyboard also changes the function of the right-ALT key, while left-ALT functions normally.


Right-ALT becomes an alternate shift, producing different characters in certain cases.


The logical & semi-logical ALT key Combinations are as follows:


Just as shift-/ gives us the question mark (?), right-ALT-/ gives us ¿ (used in Spanish punctuation).


Just as shift-1 gives us the exclamation point (!), right-ALT-1 gives us ¡ (used in Spanish punctuation).


Right-ALT [ and ] gives us the chevrons « and ».


Right-ALT c (l/c) gives us the copyright symbol, © .


Right-ALT C (u/c) gives us the cents symbol, ¢ .


Right-ALT s (l/c) gives us the German double-S symbol, ß .


Right-ALT with | produces ¦, giving a broken rather than a solid bar.


Non-logical ALT key Combinations (not a complete listing):


Right-ALT Z or z gives the joined ae character, Æ or æ.


Right-ALT with the $ (dollar sign) produces the British pound symbol £.


Right-ALT with 5 produces the Euro currency symbol, , but only if you're using an updated font that includes it on your local machine.


Right-ALT with 6, 7, 8 produces the fractions ¼, ½, ¾, respectively.


Right-ALT with = produces ×, the multiply sign.


Right-ALT with + produces ÷, the division sign.


Right-ALT with m produces µ, the micro symbol.


Right-ALT with L or l produces slashed O, as Ø or ø.


Right-ALT with ; produces , the paragraph symbol.


Right-ALT with : produces °, the degree symbol.


Right-ALT with W or w produces Å or å.


Right-ALT with (hyphen) produces ¥, the Japanese currency symbol.


These characters are apparently used less often than the other special symbols, hence are a bit harder to access.


After a bit of practice, you'll be able to produce any needed accented or special character with ease.




Revision Info:


27 April 2003 – document revised to encompass installation differences encountered by Win XP users.  A few cosmetic modifications also made.

27 June 2004 – corrected a few typos.