How does one insert any symbol or accented letter in Word, and is there a shortcut for doing that?
Word offers several options available for entering symbols that are not on your keyboard. The “best” method will depend on how regularly you use a given symbol.
1. Change to a keyboard that contains the symbols you need.
- This option is often overlooked, but would perhaps be the most sensible if you normally type in a language that needs characters that are unavailable on your current keyboard but are available on a specialized keyboard.
2. Learn and use Word’s built-in keyboard shortcuts if they will satisfy your requirements. For example, as a Canadian, I frequently need to type French accents, so long ago learned to press Ctrl-^,o when I need ô for a word like côté. The é was entered by typing Ctrl-‘,e — using the general shortcut of “Ctrl plus a symbol key” followed by the letter I want to have accented.
- You need to memorize the accent symbols, but they make sense: ` for à; ~ for õ; ^ for Ô; : for ï; ‘ for á; , for ç; @ for Å; / for ø, etc. Word won’t allow an invalid accent, so you cannot place a circumflex over a g, but it will work for some symbols: Ctrl-/,c will display the ¢ symbol for example.
- Not sure which symbol to use? Bring up the Insert > Symbol > More Symbols dialog and scroll through the long list to select the accented character you need. The “shortcut key” will be displayed in the lower left corner of the dialog.
3. Learn and use the Unicode value for a symbol. For example, to type the Greek letter delta, type 0394 and then press Alt-x. The 0394 is the Unicode location for the Δ symbol — and if you press Alt-x again, the symbol will be replaced by its Unicode value.
- As above, the Insert > Symbol > More Symbols dialog can be used to learn the Unicode value for a large selection of symbols — but if you cannot find what you need in the small subset of symbols included in the dialog, do an online search. For example, a search for Unicode symbol for umbrella shows that ☂ is assigned to 2602 in the Unicode set.
- Read more about the Unicode consortium here.
4. Learn and use the numeric keyboard entry codes for symbols you use regularly. If your keyboard includes a separate numeric pad, you can press Alt and one or more keys on the numeric pad to enter many characters.
- For example, an em dash can be entered by pressing Alt-Ctrl and the numeric keypad’s minus sign to display —. Alternatively, you can also enter it by pressing Alt-0151.
- How do you know what characters to use? Again, the Insert > Symbol > More Symbols dialog will show you if you navigate to the symbol and select it: the name and one shortcut key will be shown in the lower left — but other alternatives are shown in the lower right side of the dialog.
- Use the “from” pull-down on the right side to select “ASCII (decimal)” to show the character code in that format. If available, it will be shown as a 2–3 digit number; to enter it using the numeric keypad method, add 1–2 leading zeros for the digits to press with the Alt key held down.
5. Create a shortcut to the More Symbols dialog. As can be seen from the above, many symbols you’ll need are available via the Insert > Symbol > More Symbols dialog. If you find the ribbon & menu steps tedious to get to the dialog, consider assigning a shortcut to it:
- To make a keyboard shortcut, use File > Options > Customize Ribbon, then click the Customize… button next to “Keyboard shortcuts”. Choose the “Insert Tab category to display available commands in the right column. Within it, scroll to select InsertSymbol. You can then press the new keyboard shortcut you want to use and click Assign. Mine is set to Alt-I,s for Insert Symbol. (If there is already a keyboard shortcut assigned, the dialog will show it in the “Current keys” area.)
- To add a button to the Quick Access Toolbar (QAT) so it will be available no matter which ribbon is in effect, use File > Options > Quick Access Toolbar. In the “Choose commands from” column, select “Insert Tab” to display all possible commands in that Tab. Scroll down to select “Insert Symbol from Dialog”, then click the Add >> button to add it to your QAT.
- Note that you can also access both customizing methods by right-clicking within the ribbon area.
Finding entry options in the Symbols dialog
The name and any currently-assigned shortcut key is shown on the lower left — here showing that I can enter the Euro symbol (€) by pressing the shortcut key Alt-Ctrl-e.
But note that the lower right side shows that the character code in Unicode is 20AC, so I can also type 20ac and press Alt-x to get € (case is ignored).
If I use the pull-down to choose “ASCII (decimal)”, the character code shows as 128 — so pressing Alt-0128 would also display € (a leading zero is needed to make it 4 digits on the numeric keypad). The “ASCII (hex)” option shows the character code as 0080, but there isn’t an equivalent keyboard method for entering that.
Note that not all symbols will have built-in shortcut keys, but recent versions of Word will show the “Alt-x” method to access the Unicode symbol for many.
As a final tip for smartphone or tablet users, investigate options for entering special characters on your screen-based keyboard. For example, a “long press” on the letter “e” on my Android phone will pop up many accented variants; similarly, a long-press on “1” will offer various common fractions, etc. Most (if not all) characters have such variants, so explore your keyboard to get an idea about what is available.