Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 2007, 2010, and 2013. If you are using an earlier version (Word 2003 or earlier), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for earlier versions of Word, click here: Inserting Foreign Characters.

Inserting Foreign Characters

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated October 5, 2013)

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If English is your native language, you may periodically have a need to type something that contains a character that doesn't appear in the English alphabet. For instance, words that are of French descent (such as resume) may require an accent over some of the vowels to be technically correct.

The first thing to remember is that you are not creating some kind of "compound character" that is composed of a regular character and an accent mark. What you are doing is using a single character from a foreign language—the e character is a single character, not a compound character.

There are multiple ways to insert foreign characters. One way is to choose Symbol from the Insert menu, and then look for the character you need. While this approach is possible, it can quickly become tedious if you use quite a few special characters in your writing.

Another possible approach is to use the AutoCorrect feature of Word. This works great for some words, and not so great for others. For instance, you wouldn't want to set up AutoCorrect to convert all instances of resume to resume, since both variations are words in their own right. You can use it for other words that do not have a similar spelling in English. In fact, Microsoft has already included several such words in AutoCorrect—for instance, if you type souffle you get souffle or if you type touche you get touche.

Word does include a set of handy shortcuts for creating foreign characters. Essentially, the shortcut consists of holding down the Ctrl key and pressing the accent mark that appears as part of the foreign character, and then pressing the character that appears under the accent mark. For instance, to create the e in resume, you would type Ctrl+' (an apostrophe) and then type the e. There are a number of these shortcuts, as shown here:

Shortcut Result
Ctrl+' Adds an acute accent to the character typed next
Ctrl+' When followed by d or D, creates the old English character "eth"
Ctrl+` Adds a grave accent to the character typed next
Ctrl+^ Adds a circumflex to the character typed next
Ctrl+~ Adds a tilde to the character typed next
Ctrl+: Adds a dieresis or umlaut to the character typed next
Ctrl+@ Adds a degree symbol above the letters a and A; used primarily in Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish
Ctrl+& Creates combination or Germanic characters based on the character typed next
Ctrl+, Adds a cedilla to the character typed next
Ctrl+/ Adds a slash through the letters o and O; used primarily in Danish and Norwegian
Alt+Ctrl+? Creates an upside-down question mark
Alt+Ctrl+! Creates an upside-down exclamation mark

Note that not all shortcuts hold to the general rule outlined earlier, and some accent character designators are approximations. (For instance, using Ctrl+: results in the next character having an umlaut, as in u, even though the colon is not the actual accent character used.)

If you ever forget the shortcut combination for a particular foreign character, you can use the Symbol dialog box to help you out. For instance, let's assume that you forget how to create n, as in Canon City, a lovely town in Colorado that is home to the amazing Royal Gorge Bridge. You could follow these general steps:

  1. Type the first two characters of the city name (Ca).
  2. Display the Symbol dialog box.
  3. Make sure that the Font drop-down is set to (normal text). (See Figure 1.)
  4. Figure 1. The Symbol dialog box.

  5. In the character area of the dialog box, locate the n character and select it.
  6. Notice at the bottom right portion of the dialog box you can see the keyboard shortcut you can use to create the character. In this case, you use Ctrl+~ followed by the n.

You can use this technique to figure out the shortcut for any of the foreign-language characters.

Another method for inserting foreign characters is to just remember their ANSI codes, and then enter them by holding down the Alt key as you type the code on the numeric keypad. For instance, you can enter the e in resume by holding down Alt and entering 0233 on the keypad. When the Alt key is released, the specified character appears. Interestingly enough, you can find out what the ANSI values are by using the Character Map accessory in Windows. While it functions very similarly to the Symbol dialog box in Word, the shortcuts shown all rely on the Alt-keypad technique.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (10445) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, and 2013. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Word here: Inserting Foreign Characters.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He  is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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What is eight minus 3?

2013-06-17 09:07:51

Casey

Note that the first three accent marks only work for vowels. In general, the shortcuts only work for those letters that occur in certain languages.

They cannot be used to create math symbols that also use diacritic marks. Are there shortcuts for these marks?


2013-06-15 04:31:34

BAW30s

Useful: thank you!

As I often have to write Slovene names, do you know of a similar way to add a caron ˅ to c, s, and z to make č, š and ž?


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