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How to Type in Symbols on a Mac

Updated on July 5, 2013

Uses of Special Characters and Symbols

You will need special characters to accomplish the following tasks:

  • Create ASCII art
  • Type math equations
  • Type a foreign word that requires accent marks, umlauts or other special characters
  • Insert foreign currency symbols or copyright symbols

Johannes Knabe's Unicode Symbol Map
Johannes Knabe's Unicode Symbol Map | Source

Option 1: Copy and Paste From the Web

One quick, universal way to capture a symbol without having to use your operating system is to copy the symbol from a webpage. This Unicode Symbol Map contains all the unicode special characters and symbols.

Simply pick the symbol you need. The symbol will then appear on top of the drop down menu. Then, copy and paste the symbol wherever you want it.

Note: This method works in any operating system. (Windows, Linux, OS X, etc.)

Character Viewer in OS X
Character Viewer in OS X

Option 2: Enter Symbols Using Character Viewer in Mac OS X

Step 1: Enable the Special Characters Menu

Enabling special characters allows you to open Character Viewer from the menu bar of any program.

  1. Open System Preferences, then go to Language and Text.
  2. Click the Input Sources tab and then check Keyboard and Character Viewer.
  3. You will now be able to insert symbols by selecting Edit and then Special Characters... from the menu bar.

Step 2: Enter a Special Character

  1. Click inside of an area where you want your special character or symbol to appear.
  2. From the menu bar, select Edit and then Special Characters...
  3. Select the special character you need and double click it. The special character will appear.

Symbol and Text Substitution
Symbol and Text Substitution

Option 3: Use Symbol and Text Substitution

OS X has a feature that allows you to automatically replace any character with a symbol or special character. Configuring OS X to automatically replace a character that you rarely use with one that you use all the time is a shortcut that will allow you to save time when you write.

Step 1: Enable Symbol and Text Substitution

  • Open System Preferences, then click Language and Text.
  • Choose the Text tab and check the box for Use Symbol and Text Substitution

Step 2: Configure Symbol and Text Substitution

  • In the left column, type in a character on your keyboard that you don't use very often. In the video I used the carrot symbol.
  • In the right column, paste in the symbol that you want to replace the character in the left column. I chose the symbol for the Euro.
  • Check the box on the left, indicating that you want to turn on substitution for these two characters.
  • Open up TextEdit and test to make sure that the substitution works.

Note: Substitution doesn't work if you type inside of a text box that appears on a webpage. As a workaround, you can type into a document (TextEdit, OpenOffice, etc.) and then paste the contents of what you type there into your browser. Any symbols that you used will copy over.

How to Quickly Make Accent Marks

If you're trying to spell a word that contains an accent mark (like fiancè, for example) all you need to do is hold down the "e" key for a few seconds. A menu with several different options will appear. For the "e" key, you can select from è, é, ê, ë, ē, ė and ę. After you make a selection, the character will be inserted into the area where you were typing.

There's also a way to change the options that appear when you hold down a key. Check out the "Advanced Tricks" section of this hub for more information.


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