Some foreign words, like "résumé," contain letters with accents or other diacritic marks that don't appear on many American English keyboards. Use keyboard codes or the Windows character map to produce these, as well as other special characters such as trademark and copyright symbols, foreign currency symbols, mathematical notation and decorative elements. Commonly-used characters can be listed by type and can be found on a variety of websites.
Alt Key Numeric Codes
You can produce special characters by holding down the "alt" key and typing in a numerical code on the number keypad. Your number lock must be on. For example, if you wanted to enter é, as in résumé, you would hold down the "alt" key and type 0, 2, 3, 3 on the numerical keypad. "Alt" key characters include letters with acute and grave accents, foreign punctuation, such as inverted exclamation points and question marks, mathematical symbols, such as fractions and the division symbol, symbols for foreign currency, such as the Japanese yen or British pound, and typographical marks such as the dagger, double dagger, section and paragraph symbols. You can find more complete lists at Alt-Codes.net.
Decorative Unicode Symbols
By holding down the "alt" key and typing in the correct numerical code, you can create decorative unicode symbols, such as smiling faces, stars or musical notes. With the number lock on, press the "alt" key, then type in the number code for the symbol you want. For example, holding "alt" and typing "1" on the numerical keypad will give you a smiling face. Fsymbols.com lists some popular symbols, as does Alt-codes.net.
Windows International Keyboard Codes
These are codes that you can type in on your keyboard once you have activated the Windows International Keyboard. You can change your keyboard layout from the control panel, choosing the United States International option from the drop-down menu. Once you have activated the keyboard, you will be able to create special characters, such as accented letters, foreign punctuation marks and currency symbols by holding down the right combination of keys. For example, to make the cent symbol, you would press the C key while holding down the Shift key and the right-hand "alt" key together. Penn State has a list of international keyboard symbols, available from our link in "Resources," and Microsoft provides more instructions for activating the keyboard at support.microsoft.com/kb/306560.
The Windows Character Map
In addition to keyboard codes, you can access special characters through the Windows character map tool. From the "Start" menu, go to "Programs," "Accessories," and "System Tools," where you will find the character map. There is a drop-down menu at the top of the character map where you can select the character set you want to use. The Penn State website in "Resources" lists character map symbols and gives instructions for activating the character map utility.
- YourDictionary: Keyboard Symbols Glossary
- Penn State: Windows -- Alt Key Numeric Codes
- Penn State: Windows International Keyboard Codes
- Penn State: Character Map Windows XP
- Fsymbols: Introduction
- Ted Montgomery: Special ALT Characters
- Funicode: Fun Text Generator
- Pennsylvania State University: Windows International Keyboard Codes
- Pennsylvania State University: Character Map0 Windows XP