foreign characters on a windows keyboard
July 11, 2012 5:04 AM   Subscribe

A quick question about Windows keyboard shortcuts for foreign characters.

Today I learned that in Windows 7 you can get umlaut vowels on an American keyboard by pressing ctrl-: (ctrl-shift-;) before the letter, much like the alt-u technique on a Mac. You can also use ctrl-& before s to get the ß character.

In previous versions of Windows you had to either change your keyboard layout or enter the whole four-digit Unicode key (like alt-0223 for the ß) so these shortcuts are much more convenient.

My question is, what about upside down open quotes („), curly or straight? And what about French chevron style quotes, single (‹›) or double («»)? Are there any shortcuts for these, or am I stuck with the Unicode approach? Actually I'm not sure how to make these characters on my Mac either, so I'd love to know that too.

I swear I tried googling this, it was surprisingly unhelpful. Thanks!
posted by pete_22 to Technology (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
With my (UK) keyboard, that only works in Office, not in Notepad or Internet Explorer on Windows 7. The list for Office is here: Keyboard shortcuts for international characters. Unfortunately it doesn't include other types of quotes.

A useful free program for entering characters that are difficult to get at on an Anglophone keyboard is AllChars. I've found it a bit flaky on Windows 7 but still helpful. It basically emulates the compose key often found on Linux systems, so to type ü is AltGr-u " and the upside down quotes „ are AltGr-, , (that is, AltGr and a comma simultaneously, then release both and type another comma).
posted by smcg at 6:12 AM on July 11, 2012

Hm, my copy of Windows 7 with the "US" keyboard doesn't enter characters like ü in this way.

Without installing additional software, it seems like the best thing you can do in Windows 7 is enable the additional keyboard 'United States-International'. Having done this, you can use the shortcuts on this page, such as "u to enter ü. Unfortunately, when you want to enter something like '"ugh!"' you have to type a space between the quote and the 'u'. In that keyboard layout, you can enter chevron double quotes with AltGr+[], but I don't see the other quotes you mentioned.

this tool will let you create your own keyboard layout, including what is entered by dead keys (so that you could e.g., make '<> enter ‹› and "_ enter „), but then you're stuck customizing every computer that you use.

Seconding smcg's shout-out to the Linux compose key. It comes with a pretty complete set of composition sequences for symbols and european text. After a bit of tweaking [self-link], you just add one line to a text file to create new compose sequences like, I dunno, compose+wtf for ಠ_ಠ or compose+fi for the fi ligature.
posted by jepler at 6:21 AM on July 11, 2012

I appreciate the answers but I don't want anything that changes the standard configuration of the keyboard or even a single function key. I'm too accustomed to various other keyboard shortcuts, and anything that breaks some of them would be more annoying to me than just typing the Unicode numbers or using the "insert symbol" pop-up or something. I'm specifically looking for something like the ctrl-shift-; thing I mentioned. I realize it may not exist though.
posted by pete_22 at 6:53 AM on July 11, 2012

As for the non-universality of the shortcuts I mentioned, I just realized that they don't seem to work inside text forms on a web page (like this one). They work in the location bar of this browser though (Chrome). But oddly not in the IE location bar which I just tried. Weird. Maybe they're not so useful after all.
posted by pete_22 at 6:57 AM on July 11, 2012

Ah, OK. In that case I don't believe there's a lot you can do - as far as I know Windows's keyboard shortcuts for entering special characters are pretty basic. The list in my first comment should work in Office, though.

I've also just noticed the part of your question about the Mac. You can see all of the characters you can type with the Keyboard Viewer. There's also this PDF although I can't test how accurate it is right now.
posted by smcg at 7:30 AM on July 11, 2012

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