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How Do I View Available Characters in OS X?

Published by marco on

There’s a keyboard viewer stashed away in a very unintuitive place. These instructions assume you are using OS X English, but include steps for both Leopard and Snow Leopard (versions 10.5.x and 10.6.x respectively). Click the footnote links to jump to the screenshots below.

  1. Select “System Preferences…” from the Apple in the top-left corner.
  2. In Leopard, select the “International” icon in the top row (in Snow Leopard, it’s called “Language & Text”)
  3. In Leopard, select the “Input Menu” page. In the list on that page, you can enable the “Keyboard viewer”.[1] An icon with the Flag representing your current input format (probably US English or Swiss German) shows up in the menu bar at the top-right of the screen. (In Snow Leopard, the page is called “Input Sources” and the item in the list is labeled as “Keyboard and Character Viewer”.[2])
  4. Click the newly enabled icon in the menu bar to show a menu of options.[3][4]
  5. Select “Show Keyboard Viewer” to show a virtual keyboard.[5]
  6. Press the “alt/option”, “Command” and “Control” keys both alone and in combination to see what effects they have.

But wait, there’s more! If you need to make an accented character not directly supported by your keyboard, you can use some special key combinations to insert a “floating” diacritical mark[6]; that mark is automatically applied to the next character you type (within the capabilities of the selected font and encoding, of course).

  • Alt/Option+u: Umlaut (e.g. ä, ë, ï, ö, ü)
  • Alt/Option+e: Acute (e.g. á, é, í, ó, ú)
  • Alt/Option+`: Grave (e.g. à, è, ì, ò, ù)
  • Alt/Option+i: Circumflex (e.g. â, ê, î, ô, û)
  • Alt/Option+n: Tilde (e.g. ã, õ, ñ)


[3]  Image 3: Select Keyboard Viewer (Leopard)
[4]  Image 4: Select Keyboard Viewer (Snow Leopard)

[6] Only Western diacritical marks are supported, as far as I know.