Using Alt to get accent and other characters

Keyboard shortcuts for special characters that work outside Office and without special setup.

After our article on Accent characters, some readers asked why we didn’t mention another method of entering characters using the Alt key.

It’s possible to enter any character into a Windows program using the Alt key plus the number pad (usually on the right side of a larger keyboard).


Note: all the numbers in this article have to be typed on the number pad part of the keyboard with the Num Lock button set ON – the number keys on the top row, above the letters, won’t work. This limitation is one of the reasons why we didn’t mention this in the accent article.

This is a handy shortcut to enter accent or other non-keyboard characters, especially if you are using different keyboards regularly. The downside is that portable computers usually don’t have number pads directly accessible.

To type the @ symbol for email addresses you could do this:

Hold down the Alt key while pressing the numbers 6 4 on the number pad  aka Alt + 64

The @ symbol will appear at the cursor in Word or whatever other program you are using.

This is a useful trick for travelers because some keyboards in obscure Internet cafés don’t have the @ symbol on any key!

 

Technically what’s happening is that Windows is entering translating the ASCII decimal number you have entered into the character. 64 is the ASCII code for the @ symbol.


Finding a code number

A simple way to find an Alt + code number is using Insert | Symbol in Office . Find the character you want, select ASCII (decimal) and read the decimal code.

Insert Symbol - show Alt code number.jpg image from Using Alt to get accent and other characters at Office-Watch.com

Some common Alt codes are:

Degree Sign ° 0176

Sterling £       0163

Euro             0128

¿ 0191

À 0192 à 0224

Á 0193 á 0225

 0194 â 0226

à 0195 ã 0227

Ä 0196 ä 0228

Å 0197 å 0229

Æ 198 æ 230

Ç 0199 ç 0231

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È 0200 è 0232

É 0201 é 0233

Ê 0202 ê 0234

Ë 0203 Ë 0235

As you can see, the upper and lower case versions of an accented character are 32 numbers apart.


That’s just for starters

For most people the simple Alt + a code number is enough. As usual in Windows, something that appears simple gets more complicated as you dig into it.

When you enter an Alt + number without a zero at the start, you’re telling Windows to use the DOS compatibility characters.

If you type a leading zero on the number (eg Alt + 064 ) then you’ll see the character according to the current Windows code page setting (usually Windows-1252 for any computer using the Latin alphabet).

For the low value number codes, the DOS compatibility and Windows code character are the same (as with Alt + 64 and Alt + 064), but when you get into the higher numbers, above 127, the characters can change.

As an example, here are the characters for 160 to 169. As you can see they are all different depending on whether you enter the leading zero or not.

160 á
0160 (a ‘no break’ space)

161 í (lower case I with acute)
0161 ¡ (inverted exclamation)

162 ó
0162 ¢

163 ú
0163 £

164 ñ
0164 ¤

165 Ñ
0165 ¥

166 ª
0166 ¦

167 º
0167 §

168 ¿
0168 ¨

169 ⌐
0169 ©


Unicode

Unicode is the modern replacement for code pages with over 109,000 characters possible in a single font, though few fonts are that comprehensive except ‘Arial Unicode MS’ supplied with Windows.

If you want an Alt + number shortcut to enter a Unicode character you need to change Windows via the registry. We absolutely do NOT recommend this (there are better ways to enter characters) but mention it for the sake of completeness:

Go into RegEdit and find or make the key

HKCUControl PanelInput MethodEnableHexNumpad

Give the key a REG_SZ value of 1 then restart the system

This will let you enter hexadecimal values via the number pad.

To enter a hex value hold down the Alt key then press the + sign on the number pad followed by the Unicode number.

For example:

Hold down Alt while pressing +2601 will display a cloud symbol if the Arial Unicode MS font is set.

We found the character and code number from the Insert Symbol dialog, choosing the correct font and selecting Unicode (hex) values.

Insert Symbol - Unicode with Alt code number.jpg image from Using Alt to get accent and other characters at Office-Watch.com

In Word there’s an easier way, just type in the Unicode number (top row keys are OK) then Alt+X and the value will be converted to the character. This trick doesn’t work in Outlook, Excel or Powerpoint but you can paste text from Word into those programs – as long as you use the same font.


Why don’t the top row numbers work?

After all they are the same characters, surely it doesn’t matter which key you press?

While the characters produced by the top row keys and number pad keys are the same, the underlying keystroke ‘scan codes’ are different.

For example, pressing ‘3’ on the top row sends code 26 from the keyboard to Windows while ‘3’ on the number pad sends code 7A.

Why the Alt + code number only works with the number pad? We don’t know, it’s always been that way. Maybe some Office Watch reader can remember the reason from the early days of personal computing? Let us know via our Feedback page.