Here’s the situation: you write a report for work, and you suddenly have to write the phrase “Jones née Berkowitz.” Or you add a sentence in Spanish and need to use the word “años”. How do you add the special characters to the letters?
Special characters (also known as diacritical marks) may be more common in certain languages, but there are many situations where English speakers may need to use them. But because they are so rare in English, English speakers may not have learned to add tags to documents, emails, or other publications. It is not difficult to add them to the Windows document, even if it is not as smooth an operation as on a Mac, where all you have to do is hold down the correct key. (In fact, you once had to look up the symbolic characters …)
Use the touch keyboard
- Right-click on the taskbar
- Click on “Show keyboard button”
Now, when you want to use a special character:
- Click on the keyboard icon
- The touch keyboard appears. Long press (with the mouse button or, if you have a touch screen, your finger) the letter you want to use
- You will now see several additional keys that show the ways you can type the letter with different symbols. Select the one you want and it will appear on your document.
- To enter an emoji, click the emoji key (to the left of the “space bar”)
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’s mainly to add emojis to your text, but it has other uses as well. And it’s easy to use:
- Hold down the Windows key (the one with the Windows symbol on) and press the period key
- The emoji keyboard appears and displays a series of emojis. Click on the symbol tab at the top (the third from the left).
- Use the menu on the bottom line to select the type of symbol you are looking for (if you are looking for characters you can use in the text, you will probably choose this: Ç). Then scroll down until you find the character you want.
Use the grade card
If you want to try an older method of adding special characters to Windows, you can use the Character Map, which is a less polished and complicated version of the touch keyboard but offers a similar service.
To access it on the Windows 10 system:
- Type “character” in your search field, then select the Character Map app
- You get a pop-up map that shows a series of special characters for a particular font. You can change the font by clicking on the drop-down menu at the top.
- Click the letter (s) or special characters you want to use in the document, and then click the “Select” button. They appear in the “Draw to copy” field.
- Once you have selected all the characters you want, click the “Copy” button and paste the characters into the document
Use the Unicode value
If you look at the bottom right of the character map after selecting a letter or special character, you will see the word “Keystroke” followed by “Alt” and a four-digit number. This number represents the Unicode value of the symbol and is the timed standard for adding characters.
If you use a few special characters consistently, it may be faster to just add the character you want to use using the keyboard. There are several ways to do this; here are two of the simplest (each with its own limitations):
- Press the Alt key, and then enter the four-digit Unicode value. For this to work, you must have a separate numeric keypad on the keyboard, and the NumLock key must be activated.
- If you are working with Microsoft Word, WordPad, Outlook or another Microsoft app, you can enter the Unicode value and then type Alt-X
Update March 26 10:50 AM ET: This article has been updated to add a section on using the Unicode values and the emoji keyboard.