How to type special characters on a Windows PC


Here’s the situation: you are writing a job report and suddenly you have to type the phrase “Jones née Berkowitz”. Or you are adding a phrase in Spanish and you need 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 writing. They are not difficult to add to your Windows document, although it is not as smooth an operation as on a Mac, where all you have to do is hold down the appropriate key. (In fact, sometime, you would have had to look up the character codes for the symbol …)

Using the touch keyboard

The easiest way to add diacritics to a document is to enable the Windows touch keyboard. (Thanks to Ed Bott from ZDNet first led me to this method). 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 touch screen, you can use the keyboard icon that appears on the taskbar, on the right side near the date. Can’t you see it? This is how you get it:

  • Right click on the taskbar.
  • Click “Show touch keyboard button.”

Click “Show Touch Keyboard Button”

Now when you want to use a special character:

  • Click on the touch keyboard icon.
  • The touch keyboard will appear. Press and hold (with the mouse button or, if you have a touchscreen, your finger) on the letter you want to use.
  • You will now see several additional keys showing the ways you can type that letter with different symbols. Select the one you want and it will appear in your document.
  • If you want to enter an emoji, click the emoji key (to the left of the “space bar”).

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

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

Use the character map

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 more complicated version of the touch keyboard, but offers a similar service.

To access it on your Windows 10 system:

  • Type “character” in your search field and then select the Character Map app.
  • You will get a popup map that shows a bunch of special characters for a specific font. You can change the font by clicking on the font drop-down menu at the top.

The character map allows you to access a wide variety of special characters.

The character map allows you to access a wide variety of special characters.

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

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