XDA Basics: How to insert Special Characters on a Mac

XDA Basics: How to insert Special Characters on a Mac

Every language has its own unique special characters. If you need to type any of those special characters on a Mac, it’s easier than you might think. Also known as “diacritical marks”, these can be anything from the German umlaut (Müller) to “Smith née Jones” (indicating a person’s former name). Spanish also has its own special characters, such as the word “años”.

So how are these special characters typed on a Mac keyboard? Unless you have a country-specific keyboard with the special characters for that country already on the keys, this is what you will need to do.

Select Special Characters On Mac On-Screen Menus

special characters menu on mac

This is probably the easiest way to make the special characters on a Mac appear, but it doesn’t work everywhere. For example, when I tried doing this in LibreOffice, it failed. But it works in browsers and Apple programs such as Pages and TextEdit. But if it doesn’t work in your preferred program, just open up a TextEdit document, insert the special character over there, then copy and paste it over. A bit more time-consuming but it still gets the job done.

Quite simply, when you need to insert a special character above a particular letter, hold that letter down on the keyboard and a menu will immediately pop up with the different possible special character combinations. Then either type the number underneath the one you want or click on the one you want with your mouse/trackpad. It will then appear on your screen.

special character inserted on mac

The Keyboard Viewer

There are so many special characters, besides the obvious ones, and it’s entirely possible that you don’t have a clue as to the full extent of them all. To get an immediate overview, or to locate one that is eluding you, you can turn to the keyboard viewer.

To activate the keyboard viewer, go to “System Preferences”, then select “Keyboard”. Once there, click on the “Input Sources” tab and tick the checkbox labeled “Show Input menu in menu bar”.

The Keyboard Viewer on mac

This will then appear in your top menu bar next to the battery and clock, which you should right-click to reveal a menu. Choose “Show Keyboard Viewer”.

The Keyboard Viewer on the top bar of a mac

The Keyboard Viewer will now appear on the screen.

The Keyboard Viewer on the screen of a mac

You’ll immediately notice that a couple of the keys are outlined in orange. This means that if you hold down the Option key in conjunction with one of these keys, several special character options will be presented to you in a menu for you to choose from.

If you hold down the Option key while the Keyboard Viewer is open, the keyboard will change to show you all the possible special character combinations you can have. To get that special character, just hold the necessary key down on the keyboard.

The Keyboard Viewer with special characters outlined

Country-Specific Keyboards

If you are going to be making a regular habit of typing certain special characters on a Mac, such as German umlauts, then it may be worth buying a QWERTZ German keyboard that has these keys already there. If this interests you, you can pick one up at Amazon.

About author

Mark O'Neill
Mark O'Neill

Mark O'Neill is a freelance writer, editor, and bestselling fiction author. Since 2004, he has written on technology subjects such as MacOS, iOS, cybersecurity, and online privacy. Originally from Scotland, he is now based in Würzburg, Germany, where he lives with his wife and dog.