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Posted on February 24th, 2009 by Darien Graham-Smith

Thè jóy öf áçcênts

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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13 Responses to “ Thè jóy öf áçcênts ”

  1. Christopher Phin Says:
    February 24th, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    Just buy a Mac, Darien. It’s so much easier. ROFL, LMAO etc…

  2. Christopher Phin Says:
    February 24th, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    There were “hilarious” tags around that originally, but Wordpress cleverly – and with due regard to the quality of comedy – stripped them out.

  3. Christopher Phin Says:
    February 24th, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    Urgh. At the risk of spamming this story completely, I want it recorded that the tag was ‘flamebait’, but even with spaces beween the greater-than, less-than angle brackets, it was still stripped out in my second comment. So much effort for such a tiny, tiny gag. Apologies, all…

  4. Darien Graham-Smith Says:
    February 24th, 2009 at 1:53 pm


  5. Steve Cassidy Says:
    February 24th, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    The most frequent grunts of surprsie I get when leaning over people’s shoulders using Windows Explorer, are the clickable column-sorts in Detail view. Naturally, WE all know about them, don’t we… but the fact is, users don’t. What’s the top ten largest documents in the current directory? the newest? How many PDFs have you got? Detail view in Explorer makes the answers to those trivial – yet there’s a shedload of utilities out there that “make up for Windows” not offering these abilites.

    As for the “buy a Mac| thing, don’t even talk to me about Finder and large directory manipulation. Especially with the multitouch clickpad on the new Mac Pro: once I master doing that I’m going to move on to tiddleywinks with Rubik’s Cubes – it will be easier.

  6. Nick Thorp Says:
    February 24th, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    Thanks for the very useful tip. Do you also know how to get the German “β” character using the AltGr combination?

  7. stasi47 Says:
    February 25th, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    @Nick Thorp:
    It won’t make things easier, but at least this website may help you clarify how to invoke “β” using different encodings.

    And there is much more about Unicode characters than that, see here:

  8. Maurice Says:
    February 26th, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    Alas, the option for UK Extended doesn’t seem to exist in XP Home SP3 keyboard settings. I’ll just have to continue to rely on Microsoft Visual Keyboard, which is a bit of a pain, but still better than the Alt+character number alternatives.

    Anyone have any other suggestions?

  9. Michael Says:
    February 26th, 2009 at 1:38 pm

    More of a general answer to making life easier:


  10. stasi47 Says:
    February 27th, 2009 at 3:57 pm

    Linux?! You have to be kidding! Most people won’t even succeed installing non-standard languages (e.g.: HOWTO of Sinhala Sanskrit: ) let alone being able to discover how the input software works.

  11. Zoltan Roman Says:
    March 1st, 2009 at 9:55 pm

    From the colonies: what’s Gr to me (I assume it is on British keyboards)?
    Thanks ZR

  12. Avery Permanent Inkjet Cd Labels Says:
    July 18th, 2009 at 9:24 am

    Avery Permanent Inkjet Cd Labels…

    An interesting post by a bloger made me ……

  13. Fad Says:
    September 6th, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    @Zoltan The right Alt key on a UK Extended keyboard is called ‘Alt Gr’. It is the equivalent of holding down the normal Alt+Ctrl keys, and therefore helps avoid fingertip acrobatics.

    Erm, and Darien: I’m sorry to pick a bone with you but “in modern versions of Windows” we can now do this? We have been able to use the Alt Gr keyboard shortcut since at least Windows 95. It’s possible a lot of people didn’t realise this because Win9x didn’t setup the UK *extended* keyboard by default.


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