Critical Diacriticals

I had a favorite perennial topic arise this week: typing diacriticals (foreign language accents) in OS X. Diacriticals are easy to type once you know a few clues.

First, the option key (on the keyboard) is used to access diacritical marks. Option is on the bottom row of the keyboard on the left between control and command. On some Mac keyboards, it’s also on the right side.

Typing diacriticals usually involves typing a key combination (this turns “on” the accent) and then typing the character to be accented. For example:

Hold down option
type e
release option
type e
Result: é

Another example:
Hold down option
type e
release option
type a
Result: á

Thus, after typing the combination
option e
the next character you type gets an acute accent.

Here are the most common diacritical mark combinations:

  • option e (acute accent) é á í
  • option u (grave accent) à è ù
  • option i (circumflex) î û
  • option u (umlaut) ü
  • option n (tilde) ñ

Some key combinations do not require the additional keystroke. For example:

  • option c (cedilla) ç
  • option ?  ¿

You may have noticed that the diacriticals are associated with the letter that commonly receives the accent mark in the Romance languages.

In iOS, typing diacritical marks is far easier. Just tap and hold the letter and a menu of possible accents appears. Slide to the accent to type it.

accents In current versions of OS X, the iOS method now works similarly. Type and hold a letter, and a menu of possible accents appears. Type the number under the accent you wish to use.


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