How to Insert Symbols Above Letters With the Keyboard

By Contributing Writer

Many different symbols are shown above the number keys on the keyboard, but far more are not, requiring users to know where to find them and how to insert them into their documents. Some common symbols include cents, degrees, copyright and trademark. While the most common way to insert these symbols is with a word processing program's Insert option, many other software programs, such as Microsoft Outlook, do not offer this option. You can still use these symbols, though, by using shortcut keys on your keyboard.

Step 1

Determine the code set. Two different code sets---American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII) and Unicode---contain all symbols. Unicode includes the symbols in ASCII as well as the symbols used in languages other than English. Both code sets assign numbers to each symbol. For example, the ASCII numerical code for a degree symbol is 167, the Unicode number is 0176.

Step 2

Locate the codes for the symbols you want to use (see Resources). Some symbols can be located in both sets; however, the numbers will not be the same between the code sets. The numbers are the buttons you need to push on your number pad when you want to insert the symbol.

Step 3

Using a PC, insert the symbols pressing alt, holding it down, and then on the number pad, pressing the numbers that correspond to the symbol you need. The symbol should appear. It is important to use the number pad on your keyboard, as the numbers above the letters will not work this way.

Tips & Warnings

  • Macs have their own shortcuts already programmed into the computer. Access the chart at and use a combination of Option, Alt, and the other corresponding keys. Laptops that do not have a number pad make the process of inserting symbols a little more difficult. You will need to set your own shortcuts on the keyboard for the symbols you would use. You can do this by going to your word processing program's Insert menu. Find the Special Characters or Symbol box. Find the symbol you will need to use, and it will display the current shortcut keys. There should be an option to change this. You can select whichever keys you would like to use.