Here is the situation: You are typing in an employment report and suddenly you have to write the sentence “Jones née Berkowitz”. Or you are adding a sentence in Spanish and you need to use the word “años”. How do you add special characters to letters with Windows 11 PC?
Special characters (also known as diacritics) may be more common in some languages, but there are many circumstances where English speakers may need to use them. But because they’re so rare in English, native English speakers may not have learned how to add those marks to documents, emails, or other writing. It’s not hard to add them to your Windows document, although it’s not as simple as on a Mac, where all you have to do is hold down the appropriate key. (In fact, once upon a time, you should have looked up the character codes of the symbols.)
Here are various ways to add special characters when using a Windows 11 computer.
Use the touch keyboard
The easiest way to add diacritics to a document is to enable the Windows touch keyboard. (Thanks to Ed Bott from ZDNet first led me to this method.) The touch keyboard appears automatically if you are using a Windows tablet or PC in tablet mode. If you don’t have a touchscreen, you can use the keyboard icon that appears in the taskbar on the right side next to the date. Do not you see it? Here’s how you get it:
- Click the search icon in the toolbar and search for “touch keyboard”. Or go to Settings> Time and language> Typing> Touch keyboard†
- check Show touch keyboard when no keyboard is connected†
Now, when you want to use a special character:
- Click on the touch keyboard icon. (You’ll usually find this on the right side of the taskbar.)
- The touch keyboard will appear. Long press (with the mouse button or, if you have a touchscreen, your finger) on the letter you want to use.
- Now you will see several extra keys showing the ways you can type that letter with different symbols. Select the one you want and it will appear on your document.
- If you want to add an emoji or a GIF, click the emoji button. (It’s the heart icon located at the top left of the keyboard.)
Use the emoji keyboard
Another keyboard that you can access and that allows you to easily add special characters to your text is the Windows emoji keyboard. Yes, it is mainly for adding emojis to your text, but it has other uses as well. And it’s simple to use.
- Hold down the Windows key and press the period key.
- The emoji keyboard will appear. Click the symbols tab at the top (fourth from the left).
The emoji keyboard also gives you access to special characters.
- Scroll down until you find the character you want. You can also switch between different fonts using the categories (such as “General Punctuation” or “Currency Symbols”) at the top.
Use the character map
If you’d like to try an older-style method of adding special characters to Windows, you can use the character map, which is a less refined and more complicated version of the touch keyboard but offers a similar service.
To access it on your Windows 11 system:
- Select the search icon in the system tray, type “character” in the search field, then select the Character Map app.
- You’ll get a pop-up map showing a group of special characters for a specific font. You can change the font by clicking on the font drop-down menu at the top.
- Click the letters or special characters you want to use in the document, then click the “Select” button. They will appear in the Characters to copy field.
- After selecting all the desired characters, click copy button, then paste the characters into your document.
Use the US international keyboard
If you speak English, is multilingual and uses a lot of special characters, you might want to try the US International Keyboard, which maps your keyboard to make it easier for you to add special characters. (Thanks to “shiroledat” for the tip.)
First, you need to add US international keyboard to Windows:
- go to Settings> Time and language> Language and region†
- look for Preferred languages and (assuming you speak English in the US) click English (US)† Then select the three points on the right and choose Language options†
- Look for the keyboards section, which (if you’ve never been there before) will likely only contain a single keyboard icon labeled USA / QWERTY† This is the keyboard map you are using now. Click on Add a keyboard button to the right of Keyboards installed†
- In the pop-up menu that appears, scroll to United States-International / QWERTY and click on it.
Now you always have the option to use the standard US keyboard or the US international keyboard. You can see which one is active at the bottom right of the taskbar near the date. It will read ITA / USA or ITA / INTL† Click that (or just press Windows key + space bar) and a pop-up menu will allow you to switch between them.
The US International Keyboard offers you two ways to add a special character:
- Use the right Alt key in combination with the appropriate letter to get one of the most common combinations. For instance, Alt + e will result And†
- Press the symbol you want to use and then the letter you want to use it with. For example, if you press the first † symbol and then the n key, you will get n†
Washington State University has released a helpful chart showing all the symbols you can get using the US International Keyboard.
Use the Unicode value
Remember the character map? If you look in the lower right corner of the character map after choosing a letter or special character, you will see the word typing followed by alt and a four-digit number. This number represents the Unicode value of the symbol and is the established standard for adding characters.
If you use some special characters consistently, it may be quicker to just add the character you want using your usual keyboard. There are several ways to do this; here are two of the simplest (each of which has its limitations):
- Press the Alt key and then type the four-digit Unicode value. For this to work, you need to have a separate numeric keypad on your keyboard, and the Num Lock key should be enabled.
- If you are working with Microsoft Word, WordPad, Outlook, or another Microsoft app, you can type the Unicode value and then type Alt-X†
- You can also press the Ctrl key plus a symbol and then the letter you want to accent. For instance, Ctrl + ‘ And And will result And – assuming you are in a Microsoft app.
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