How to type any character on your Mac including symbols and accents

How to type special characters on the Apple Mac, such as accents, foreign characters, symbols, emoji and more. Top keyboard tricks

If you struggle to type foreign characters, special symbols, emoji, checkmarks, tickboxes and more. Here are the shortcuts and tricks you need on your Mac. How to type any character you want.

How to type an accent or foreign character

In many Mac applications there is a very simple way to enter accents and to type foreign characters. You may have discovered it accidentally when your finger lingered a bit too long on a key.

Press and hold a key and after about one second a list of accented characters is displayed just above the character that was entered.

Hold down a key on the Mac to see a list of accented characters

Click the one you want with the mouse or use the keyboard and press the number underneath it.

Not every key has alternative characters and T for example doesn’t. Vowels like a, e, i, o and u have lots of them. Try pressing and holding the vowel keys in TextEdit and you will see a total of around 34 alternative accented characters.

This trick does not work in all apps. If you use Google Docs to create documents for example, holding down a key does nothing.

Use the keyboard

You can also call up a handy keyboard assistant. This displays an on-screen keyboard that shows you what characters are entered when you hold down Ctrl, Option and Command and then press a key.

The keyboard viewer utility on the Apple Mac
Option key held down

How to type emoji characters on a Mac

Emoji characters can be a lot of fun when used appropriately (not in your work documents obviously). There are hundreds of them and they are very easy to enter.

In most Mac applications press the shortcut key Ctrl+Cmd+Spacebar. This displays a small panel containing emoji characters.

Use the scrollbar on the right to browse the emoji characters and click the buttons at the bottom to select the category of the emoji that you want. 

Press Ctrl+Cmd+Spacebar to insert emoji characters on the Apple Mac

Show the emoji panel, scroll right to the top and there is a search box. Here you can enter any word you like and see if there are any emoji that could be used instead. For example, enter ‘weather’ or ‘dog’ or whatever you want.

Search for emoji characters on the Apple Mac

How to type special characters on a Mac

The emoji panel is just a subset of a more comprehensive character selector. Click the button in the top right corner and the panel expands.

Select the category of the character you want in the first column and then click the character in the middle column to see a larger version and a text description. Double click a character to enter it into the document.

Insert any character on the Apple Mac using the Characters panel

How to type a checkmark

Have you ever wondered how to type a checkmark on the Mac?

  1.  Press Ctrl+Cmd+Spacebar
  2. Click the icon in the top right corner if only emoji are visible
  3. Select the Bullets/Stars category on the left
  4. Find the Checkmark character and double click it

Type a checkmark on the Apple Mac with this tool

There is also a ballot box with a tick and another with a cross. These might be useful too.

It is tedious to enter a lof of characters using this panel, but usually you don’t need to. If you do need to enter a certain character, enter it once, select it and then press Command+C to copy it to the clipboard.

Wherever you need it you can then just press Command+V to paste it in. If there are several accented or foreign, or special symbols you use regularly, Here are 6 clipboard managers that enable you to store multiple items on the clipboard. You might find them useful for storing commonly used symbols and characters.

Another trick you can use is to enter a dummy character like $ where you really want a foreign symbol. Use find and replace to find $ and replace it with the character you want.

Open the menu by clicking the gear icon in the top left corner and select small, medium or large characters. This affects the size of the characters in the panel, they are inserted into the document using the font size set in the app, such as TextEdit.

There is also an option on this menu to clear the frequently used characters. It will be replaced with a new set as you select and use characters.

Insert special characters into Google Docs

The techniques discussed so far do not work when using the web. That it because the web uses different fonts and characters and ways of working.

If you want to type a special character in Google Docs word processor for example:

  1. Go to the Insert menu
  2. Select Special Characters
  3. Select Categories
  4. Select a category
  5. Select a subcategory
  6. Click a symbol

Type special characters into Google Docs documents

You can, in fact, let the mouse hover over a character and press the spacebar. This is useful if you are repeating a character many times.

 

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