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Quickly type Greek letters like beta, delta & gamma in Word

A little-known Word shortcut lets you type Δ Θ Δ Ω Π plus other Greek and math symbols quickly and easily.

Ctrl + Shift + Q changes to the Symbol font for the next letter only.  Only in Word for Windows, I’m afraid.  Not Word for Mac.

It’s a very old Word shortcut, it’s in Word 6.0 for Windows 3.11 from 1993!  While it’s still useful, Microsoft hasn’t updated this feature for a long time and there are compatibility problems to beware.

How Ctrl + Shift + Q works

Press Ctrl + Shift + Q then a key – say F Φ will appear.

Select the symbol and you’ll see what’s happened. For one letter, the font was changed to ‘Symbol’

Ctrl + Shift + Q is pressed before the key. It’s the opposite of the Alt + X shortcut which is pressed after the typing.

Which keys work with Ctrl + Shift + Q ?

Not all letters change using Ctrl + Shift + Q – some like capital A and B look the same or very similar.

Here’s some lists of the keypress and what you get typing Ctrl + Shift + Q after the letter.


Lower case

Quick Pi 𝜋

Possibly the most useful option is the letter P – upper or lower case – to make the Pi p symbol.

Ctrl + Shift + Q then P — makes the capital PI

Ctrl + Shift + Q then p – makes the lower case Pi

See Pi 𝜋 choices in Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook

Other symbols

Four of the ‘top row’ keys have different symbol alternatives.

What is the ‘Symbol font’?

Symbol is an old font (copyright 1989!).  According to Microsoft it’s been included since Windows 95 but we have it on Windows 3.11 from 1993 so it’s at least that old.

According to Microsoft, Symbol font:

 “…contains Times New Roman Greek capitals and lowercase, figures and basic punctuation together with a collection of mathematical signs and general purpose Pi characters. Use for setting mathematical and scientific work and as a compliment to the symbols found in standard fonts.”

It’s been long since superseded by other symbol fonts ( Arial Unicode MS, Segoe UI Symbol etc) which have many, many more characters.

Like some other old fonts (Wingdings and Webdings), Symbol doesn’t follow the Unicode character numbering.

That means if you change the font on a character using Symbol font, you’ll get a very different character or nothing at all.  For example, make a Pi sign using the Ctrl + Shift + Q trick, then change to Segoe UI Symbol and the letter P will appear.

Be careful using Ctrl + Shift + Q on collaborating documents because you can’t be sure what fonts will be used on other computers.  Or make sure Font Embedding is on for that document so the Symbol font travels with the document.

Time for an upgrade

This part of Word doesn’t appear to have been looked at for a long, long time; perhaps more than a decade.  It’s long overdue for an upgrade from Microsoft and not just so it works with modern collaborative documents.

The whole system should be Unicode compliant.  The replaced characters should have Unicode values so they are compatible with a much wider range of symbol fonts.  Retain the current mapping to Greek or math symbols but replace what’s typed with a Unicode character value as well as a font change.

That means dropping the Windows only Symbol font, in favor of a cross-platform font like Segoe UI Symbol.  Leave Symbol in Windows for compatibility.

If that’s done, then the Ctrl + Shift + Q shortcut can be added to Word for Mac and also Excel and PowerPoint for both platforms.

While Microsoft’s doing that, the same team could deploy the very useful Alt + X trick more widely across both Office for Windows and Mac.

Don’t hold your breath.  Since it’s not cloud-based or fancy in demos, such merely useful changes are unlikely to get much love at Redmond.

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