macOS: Accented Letters Are Surprisingly Easy to Type

2 minute read
| Quick Tip

For many United States Mac users who communicate with the international community, typing accented letters can create a great deal of concern. More than a few think it’s necessary to type in special codes to insert the characters, but the truth is that it’s actually much easier than that. Several years ago, our own Melissa Holt showed us how to find the special characters and accented letters in OS X Mountain Lion using the Character Viewer, but that tool has changed names since then. Let’s take a look at the easiest way to type accented letters, and also brush up on where that viewer is located now.

Learn how to type accented letters quickly and easily

Typing accented letters is actually pretty easy in macOS Sierra (Image Credit: stokpic)

Typing Accented Letters Without a Viewer

The first, and easiest way, to get to those accented letters is to just hold down the appropriate key. For example, if I wanted to type ‘à,’ I would hold down the letter ‘a’ on my keyboard for a couple of seconds. A menu will then pop up above your cursor with the available options for that character. You can choose the right one with your mouse, or simply press the number listed under the correct accented letter.

The accented letters pop-up menu on macOS Sierra

Sending a tweet, or typing any other text, with accented letters is easy in macOS Sierra

What If I Just Get Repeated Letters?

If you never see the pop-up menu and instead get repeated characters from your long keypress, chances are you’ve changed the keypress behavior. You likely did so with this command in the Terminal app:

defaults write -g ApplePressAndHoldEnabled -bool false

If you want to enable the accented characters pop-up, you’ll have to reverse that command. Do so by opening the Terminal app again, and entering this command:

defaults write -g ApplePressAndHoldEnabled -bool true

I’d Rather Just Use the Keyboard Viewer, So How Do I Do That?

If you’d prefer to find your accented characters with the Keyboard Viewer, you’ll have to enable it, assuming you haven’t already done so. To turn the Keyboard Viewer on in your menu bar, start off by going to System Preferences, and clicking Keyboard.

Preparing to type accented letters from the Keyboard Viewer, beginning with the Keyboard pane in System Preferences

To enable the Keyboard Viewer, start off in the Keyboard pane of System Preferences

From the Keyboard tab, make sure Show keyboard and emoji viewers in menu bar is checked. Once you’ve done that, you can close System Preferences.

Enabling the Keyboard Viewer in Keyboard Preferences, to allow typing accented letters

Make sure Show keyboard and emoji viewers is checked

A new icon will have appeared in your menu bar, usually right beside your username. The icon looks vaguely like a keyboard dominated by the ⌘ symbol. Click on that icon, then click Show Keyboard Viewer.

Type your accented letters from the Keyboard Viewer now available in your menu bar

Accessing the Keyboard Viewer after it’s enabled just takes a click

Now you should see a keyboard on your screen. If you press the Option key, Command key, or other keypress combinations, you’ll see accents and other options for your keyboard.

Finding accented letters in the Keyboard Viewer

The Keyboard Viewer shows you which key combinations to use for various accented letters and symbols

4 Comments Add a comment

  1. FCompton

    I’m still on El Capitan, but I would think that this would still be valid.

    Do this all the time: á is simply opt-e followed by typing “a”. Now the OS is smart enough that when you type opt-e it remains highlighted until you type the intended accent letter. Some like ç only require the single command opt-c to get the accented character. When multiple letters can have the same accent (grave, acute, umlaut) you input the required opt-(accent), then the letter to be accented.

    You do have to know where the opt- character lives on the keyboard, and not all characters can be accented, but if you use accented characters frequently, then is a handy thing to learn.

  2. Macsee

    How to type statistical average mean [x-bar (x̄)] in word processors like Microsoft Word 2016 for Mac?

  3. Jeff Butts

    @Macsee: It doesn’t look like the x-bar is included in either the keyboard options or the Character Viewer. What I did find, though, is that it’s possible using Word’s Equation Editor. The following is from a Microsoft Community post:

    The simplest method is to use the Equation Editor on the Document Elements tab of the Ribbon. Once you click the Equation [Σ] button:

    Click the Accent [ä] button
    Scroll to & select the Overbar character
    Left Arrow into the box under the bar
    Type either an upper or lower case letter of your choice
    Click outside the Equation field

    If you’ll need to use the overbar character frequently you can select it then use Edit> Paste Special – Picture. As a picture or as an EQ object it can be saved as a new equation (using the button on the right edge of the EQ control), added to the Scrapbook, saved as an AutoText Entry or as an AutoCorrect Item.

    I don’t use Word, so I haven’t tested this. Your mileage may vary 🙂

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