Type special characters on a Windows PC

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Here’s the situation: you’re typing a report for work and you suddenly have to write the phrase “Jones née Berkowitz”. Or you add a sentence in Spanish and have to use the word ‘años’. How do you add the special characters to the letters?

Special characters (also known as diacritics) may be more common in certain languages, but there are many circumstances in which English speakers may need to use them. But because they are so rare in English, native English speakers may not have learned how to add those marks to documents, emails or other writings. It is not difficult to add them to your Windows document, although it is not as smooth as it is on a Mac where you just need to hold down the correct key. (In fact, you should look up the symbol character codes …)

Use the touch keyboard

The easiest way to add diacritics to a document is to enable the Windows touch keyboard. (Thanks to Ed Bott explains ZDNet to take me to this method for the first time.) The touch keyboard appears automatically if you are using a Windows tablet or if you are using a PC in tablet mode. If you don’t have a touchscreen, you can use the keyboard icon that appears in the taskbar to the right of the date. Do not you see? This is how you get it:

  • Right-click on the taskbar.
  • Click on ‘Show touch keyboard button’.

Click on “Show touch keyboard button”

If you want to use a special character now:

  • Click the touch keyboard icon.
  • The touch keyboard appears. Long press (with your mouse button or, if you have a touchscreen, your finger) on the letter you want to use.
  • You will now see several extra keys that indicate how to type that letter with different symbols. Select the one you want, and it will appear in your document.
  • To enter an emoji, click the emoji key (to the left of the “space bar”).

Select the desired special character and it will appear in your document.

Select the desired special character and it will appear in your document.

Use the character card

If you’d like to try a more old-fashioned method of adding special characters to Windows, you can use the Character Map, which is a less polished and more complicated version of the touch keyboard, but offers a similar service.

To access on your Windows 10 system:

  • Type “character” in your search field, then select the Character Map app.
  • You will get a pop-up card with some special characters for a specific font. You can change the font by clicking the font drop-down menu at the top.

The character card gives you access to a wide variety of special characters.

The character card gives you access to a wide variety of special characters.

  • Click on the letter (s) or special characters you want to use in your document, then click the “Select” button. They appear in the “Characters to copy” field.
  • Once you have selected all the desired characters, click the “Copy” button and paste the character (s) into your document.