How to type special characters on Macs

Here’s the situation: you’re typing a report for work, and you suddenly have to write the phrase “Jones née Berkowitz.” Or you are adding a phrase in Spanish and need to use the word “años.” How do you add the special characters to the letters?

Special characters (also known as diacritical marks) may be more common in certain languages, but there are plenty of 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 writings on their Macs.

Here’s how:

For access to more common diacritical marks, you just need to hold down the key for the letter you want to use until a small numbered menu appears on-screen. The menu that pops up will show all of the diacritical marks available for that letter; just type the correct number, and the letter with the mark will appear on your screen.

There are a number of other special characters that you may want to use, which you can access by pressing down the Option key on your Mac’s keyboard and then pressing the appropriate key. Not sure which key is the appropriate one? There is a Keyboard Viewer that will let you see all of the variations that you can use.

It’s simple to find the Keyboard Viewer — if you’ve got the icon for the Input Menu in your menu bar.

Don’t see it? Here’s how to get it into your menu bar:

Go to Apple menu > System Preferences > Keyboard. Click on the Input Sources tab and look for the checkbox labeled “Show Input menu in menu bar.” If it’s not checked, then check it.

Click on the Input Menu icon (which will now be on the right side of your menu bar). Select “Show Keyboard Viewer.”

A visual of your keyboard will appear on your screen. If you press on the Option key on your keyboard, the Keyboard Viewer will show you what special characters are available if you press those keys in combination with the Option key.

Note: some of the keys will be outlined in orange. These are the keys we mentioned earlier, the ones that have several special characters and can be held down to see the various characters that can be used with them.