Dead Keys

Dead Keys
Mac Tip#62/03-July-2002

Tip #61 mentioned typing European accents such as the grave, acute and umlaut. These and other accents are squiggles of various shapes which appear above or below a particular letter in a given language. In German for example the umlaut is the “two dots” which can appear above an a, o or u.

If you look at your English language keyboard for a moment though you’ll soon see that each vowel does not have two dots above it. We saw with Key Caps that you could type an umlaut by using Option and u. If you tried that out though you would have found it didn’t work. That’s because the umlaut has to appear above the vowel not after it and usually when we’re typing each letter simply goes after the previous one.

In order to achieve a vowel with umlaut above we use a feature called a Dead Key. After you press the “dead key” the next character you type will occupy the same space instead of appearing to the right. When you press the “dead key” itself nothing seems to happen. You must follow it with a normal letter and only after both keys have been typed will you see the correct character.

In other words, to type an a with umlaut you first type Option and u and then follow up by typing the letter a. Now you’ll see an a-umlaut appear.

Many other European characters work in the same way. First you type the special key combination for the accent then you type the letter.

Here are some handy combinations. They might not work with your email software, but they did work in a trial with Eudora for Mac.

option c types ç (c cedilla — French)

option i types a circumflex (French) — â, ê, ô

option e types é (e acute — French)

option grave (key at top left of keyboard) types a grave (French) — follow it with a suitable vowel — à, è

option u types umlaut (German) — follow it with a suitable vowel — ä, ö, ü

option s types ß (s szet — German)

option n followed by n types an ñ (enye — Spanish)

option 1 types ¡ (Spanish — inverted !)

option shift ? types ¿ (Spanish — inverted ?)

There are many more characters available including proper long division and other mathematical symbols and characters from other languages. Just check Key Caps and try it out.

Special thanks to Rachel McAlpine for helping me with the French and for checking how these characters transmit in email. Rachel is the author of numerous works of fiction and non-fiction. Visit her website at:

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