hello in various languages

Accent Marks in Microsoft Word

By Barney Latimer

The series Microsoft Word and MLA Style shows writers how to use Word to make their essays conform to MLA style guidelines. This post explains how to generate accent marks in Microsoft Word.

When you quote from texts in foreign languages, you will frequently need to type accent marks. Some common accent marks are the acute accent (e.g., on the e in the French word éclair), the umlaut (on the a in the German Fräulein), and the tilde (on the n in the Spanish piñata). Accent marks appear in some English words too, usually those that have been adopted from other languages, such as déjà vu.

This post explains how to generate accent marks in Microsoft Word. It also addresses the differences between generating accent marks in versions of Word for PC and Mac. 

There are two basic ways of generating accent marks in Microsoft Word.

Using the Insert Tab

The most straightforward way of typing accent marks in Word is to use the Insert tab to call up a list of special symbols. This approach will work with any kind of keyboard, whether you are using a Mac or a PC.

PC

First, click on the Insert tab in the menu at the top of the screen. You will then see a tab labeled Symbol on the right end of the menu. Clicking on this tab will bring up a drop-down list of your most recently used special characters. If the accent mark you need isn’t on this list, click on the More Symbols tab. This will bring up a large grid of special characters. When you find the one you need, you can insert it into your text in one of two ways—either by double-clicking on the square containing the accent mark or by clicking on the square once, to highlight it, and then clicking on the Insert icon in the bottom right of the window.

Mac

First, click on the Insert tab in the menu at the top of the screen. In the drop-down menu, hover your cursor over the word Symbol. You will then have a choice between clicking on Symbol Browser and Advanced Symbol. Both options will lead you to the same list of special characters, but Advanced Symbol contains more options of how to style the text, such as a choice of fonts. In the list that appears when you choose Symbol Browser, find the accent mark you need and click once on it to insert it into your text. In the Advanced Symbol list, you can insert an accent mark into your text in one of two ways—either by double-clicking on the square containing the desired accent mark or by clicking on the square once, to highlight it, and then clicking on the Insert icon in the bottom right of the window.

Using Keyboard Shortcuts

A quicker way of generating accent marks is to use keyboard shortcuts. Below, I lay out the basic approaches to using these shortcuts in Word on a PC and on a Mac. 

PC

If your keyboard has a number pad (a rectangular grid containing the numerals 0 to 9), you can generate accent marks and other special characters by typing a capital U followed by a combination of numerals on the number pad, or by a combination of letters and numerals. These unique combinations of numbers, or numbers and letters, are known as unicodes. While Word itself does not provide a list of unicodes, you can find many such lists online. One that contains a limited, but useful, list can be found here.

If your keyboard does not have a number pad, you can use various other combinations of keys to generate accent marks. Most of these combinations begin with the control key or the alt key. Microsoft provides a list of shortcuts here. For instance, to generate an e with an acute accent (é), hold down the control key and then, simultaneously, press the apostrophe key. Then, release those two keys and quickly press the e key. To generate a capital E with an acute accent, hold down the shift key at the same time you hold down the control and apostrophe keys, then release the three keys and press the e key.

Mac

On a Mac, you can use a nifty feature to quickly generate accent marks. Simply hold down the key of the letter you need to add an accent mark to, and a little window will pop up with a list of accents to choose from. Each choice is given a number, and by typing the number after releasing the letter key, the letter with the chosen accent will appear. You can also click on the chosen accent mark to get it to appear. To create an e with an acute accent, for instance, hold down the e key until the window pops up above it, and then press the number 2 key, which corresponds to the acute accent mark; or, just click directly on the é in the window.

You can also use key combinations to generate accent marks, the same way you would on a PC. The steps are exactly the same, except that the alt key is called the option key on Mac keyboards.

Beyond Accent Marks

While accent marks may be the most common kind of special character you’ll use in your research papers, you can find many other kinds of special characters in the lists of symbols in Word, as well as on the Web sites that I link to in this post. Other kinds of special characters include letters in other alphabets, such as Cyrillic, Hebrew, and Arabic, as well as special characters like the copyright symbol (©) and symbols for currency, such as the euro (€).

Published 29 June 2020

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