Thè jóy öf áçcênts

Darien Graham-Smith
24 Feb 2009

If you ever refer to foreign words or names, you'll know the trauma of typing accented characters on a UK keyboard. Microsoft Word has its own system - for example, to type an "é" character you can press Ctrl-' followed by the letter "e". But what if you're not using Word? What if you're writing an email, or a batch file, or - shock horror - a blog post?

The traditional way to type characters that aren't on your keyboard is to hold down Alt and type in the extended ASCII character code on the numeric keypad; so to get "é" you'd hold down Alt and type 130. That still works, even in Windows 7, but the codes aren't exactly convenient to type, nor easy to remember - especially since they're in a completely illogical order (check it out).

Thankfully, there is a simpler way to produce accented characters: in modern versions of Windows you can generate the character "é" simply by typing a normal "e" while holding down Alt Gr. You never knew that mysterious key was so useful, eh? And it works with all five vowels, making it a breeze to write about the works of Pedro Almodóvar, or the closure of Guantánamo Bay.

But while that's all well and good, sometimes, in this cosmopolitan world, an acute accent simply won't cut it. What if you wish to talk about Mika Häkkinen, or the effects of El Niño, or the mythical Ceffyl Dŵr?

Thankfully, there's an easy answer. Open the Control Panel, go to "Regional and Language Options" and change your keyboard from "United Kingdom" to "United Kingdom Extended".

Don't worry - your key mappings won't suddenly go haywire. But with the extended keyboard you gain the ability to produce:

  • •  Acute accents ("á") by holding down Alt Gr and pressing the letter key (as before);
  • •  Grave accents ("à") by pressing the "back tick" key followed by the letter key;
  • •  Umlaute / diaereses ("ä") by pressing Alt Gr + 2, followed by the letter key;
  • •  Circumflexes ("â") by pressing Alt Gr + 6, followed by the letter key; and
  • •  Tildes ("ã") by pressing Alt Gr + #, followed by the letter key.
  • •  And, as a special treat, you can also generate a "c" with a cedilla ("ç") by holding down Alt Gr and pressing "c".

When I discover unsung little features like this, it makes me wonder what else is lurking in there. Have you come across any little-known Windows features that can make life easier?

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