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How Do I Type in Characters and Symbols that Aren’t on My Keyboard?

Can you tell me how to access the many odd characters and fractions etc. that are available? I used to know how but forgot. I
remember it had to use a combination of numbers or characters to access them.

Sure. It’s actually pretty simple, and very easy to do.

The problem is that many of the codes you might type in may not display the same character in all places. In most, cases the set
of characters is fairly consistent, but you might run into a case or two where what you see is not what you expect.

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The “how” is easy:

“… how do you figure out what codes to use?”
  • Depending on your keyboard, you may need to make sure that Num Lock is selected to enable the numeric keypad.
  • Hold down the ALT key.
  • On the numeric pad, type the numeric code for the character you want to insert.
  • Release the ALT key.

That’s it! It should now have “typed” a single character corresponding to the code you entered.

So I can guess the next question: how do you figure out what codes to use?

If you search for “alt codes” you’ll get links to several lists. Here’s one useful
one.

I’ll throw out a few examples as well, though:

Code Character HTML
0128 &euro;
0153 &trade;
0169 © &copy;
0174 ® &reg;
0178 ² &sup2;
0189 ½ &frac12;

A few points about the list:

  • The leading zero is important. ALT+0153 and ALT+153 are two completely different characters.
  • This is actually a Windows keyboard standard – meaning that the characters displayed might be different if a different character
    encoding is being used.
  • I’ve included an “HTML” column above that shows the proper HTML special character encoding that you should use if you are
    writing HTML to ensure that the characters are displayed properly across as many platforms as possible (though even then, some less
    common characters are sometimes not available everywhere).

Another tool to play with, if you’re interested in special characters, is the Windows “charmap” utility. Click on
Start, then Run and type in “charmap” and press OK. In this utility you can
select individual characters from any font installed on your machine, and then copy then to the clipboard for pasting into whatever
application you choose.

All in all it’s useful stuff, and besides typing in special characters into your word processing documents, these techniques can
often be used to liven up your IM messages, Twitter tweets and more.

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19 comments on “How Do I Type in Characters and Symbols that Aren’t on My Keyboard?”

  1. Robert Graham, I think most keyboards have the backward slash just below the Backspace key and left of the Delete key (above the Enter key). You don’t need upper case to type it. Hope this helps…

    Reply
  2. Judi M, Unfortunately, my keyboard, which is a special USB keyboard, doesn’t have a backslash anywhere (and I’ve tried every shft/alt combination I can think of).

    Reply
  3. If you are using Windows XP HE Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Character Map can be useful to give you symbols/fractions/etc.

    Reply
  4. If you using any of MS Office programs like Word or excel, click on INSERT tab on ribbon. On Insert tab select Symbol, (shown as greek Omega)usually it is right most on robbon. Once you select Symbol, it will diplay a winow with all symbols you need.

    Reply
  5. Now I found the “number lock” key….. I pushed on it, then I held down Ctrl 0128 to see what character I would get, and all that happened is that I got those 4 numbers in the body of my email

    Reply
  6. (a) free download http://allchars.zwolnet.com/

    (b) http://www.copypastecharacter.com/
    To have the benefit of using this page when not online, I have saved the web page to my hard drive:

    File
    Save As …
    Save as type Web Archive, single file (*.mht)

    (c) For German in particular – http://www.germancorner.com/

    There is a potential treasure trove of information at the http://www.germancorner.com/info/ page. I say “potential” because the “Hear the National Anthems” boxes at the top of the /info/ page do not work and there are older copyright dates on the bottom of the sublinks that do work. Those working sublinks contain a lot of information and downloads (including fonts and spellcheckers).

    I also found the http://www.germancorner.com/education/index.html (one of the sublinks from the /info/ page) and its sublinks very interesting.

    Merna B.

    Reply
  7. (a) free download http://allchars.zwolnet.com/

    (b) http://www.copypastecharacter.com/
    To have the benefit of using this page when not online, I have saved the web page to my hard drive:

    File
    Save As …
    Save as type Web Archive, single file (*.mht)

    (c) For German in particular – http://www.germancorner.com/

    There is a potential treasure trove of information at the http://www.germancorner.com/info/ page. I say “potential” because the “Hear the National Anthems” boxes at the top of the /info/ page do not work and there are older copyright dates on the bottom of the sublinks that do work. Those working sublinks contain a lot of information and downloads (including fonts and spellcheckers).

    I also found the http://www.germancorner.com/education/index.html (one of the sublinks from the /info/ page) and its sublinks very interesting.

    Merna B.

    Reply
  8. “Character Map” — CharMap.EXE — is located within your “C:\WINDOWS\System32” directory (or “folder” to use Microsoft-speak). I place a shortcut to it on my (classic view) Start Menu, so that it’s immediately available if I need it.

    Be aware that using CharMap does have two very distinct disadvantages:

    First, to be used correctly, you need to switch it to whatever font you happen to be writing/editing in at the moment, which — on a system with a couple of hundred fonts on it — can be rather time consuming!

    And Second, after selecting the correct font, you do need to (tediously) peruse the table of characters to hunt out the character you need — which may (or may not!) be a hunt in vain, since not every font has every available character. If you happen to be using a font which omits the character you need, you’re out of luck — all you can do is switch to some other, more complete, font!

    Still, if the latter’s the case, CharMap’s your quickest and most definitive way of finding that out! And if you don’t want to mess around with memorizing “ALT” codes, CharMap’s “point-&-click” interface can’t be beat.      🙂

    Reply
  9. Thanks Leo your articles are all so informative. May I ask how about the combination keys for a peso sign, thanks again…

    Reply

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