Typing French Accents on the PC


Various programs such as MS Word and WordPerfect offer program-specific ways to enter accented characters on a U.S. keyboard. The problem arises when you need to use accents in those programs AND in e-mail or other Windows programs. However, there are several ways of typing French accents in any Windows program. Here are two (plus a note on MS Office 2000). Each has its advantages and disadvantages, but I recommend the second . The first doesn't require any changes to the windows system, but it is somewhat unwieldy and may not work in every program. The second is easy to use and remember, works in all Windows programs (as far as I have been able to discover), but requires a small keyboard adjustment.

          The first method involves holding down the ALT key and typing numbers on the numbers keypad (the numbers on the right hand side of the board, not those along the top). When you lift your finger from the ALT key, the accented character appears as follows:

alt 128 alt 130
alt 133 alt 135
alt 136 alt 137
alt 138 alt 139
alt 140 alt 145
alt 147 alt 148
alt 150  

For the euro sign () use ALT 0128

To type the French quotation marks ( ) use the RIGHT ALT key plus [ and ].


          There is an easier way to speed up symbol entry that works well in any Windows application:

For Windows XP

          From the control panel select "Regional and Language Options," ( i.e. from the start button > settings> control panel >Regional and Language Settings ) then click on the "languages" tab, and "details, then "add keyboard," and check "keyboard layout" and select "US International" as your keyboard. You can easily switch between the keyboards by means of the language bar keyboard icon that you can keep in your windows tray.

For Windows 98 or NT

          From the control panel select "keyboard," ( i.e. from the start button > settings> control panel >keyboard ) then click on the "language" tab, (or "input locales" in Windows NT) and "properties ." From the pull-down menu select "United States-International" as the keyboard. That's it.

          Voil. Now ` (open quote), ' (apostrophe), "(doublequote) ~ (tilde) and ^ (circumflex) become dead keys that can be used in combination with vowels (or the "n" for Spanish) to produce, for example, , , , , , . The only inconvenience is that when you really want to type one of the dead keys, such as ~, or " and ', you need to hit the space bar before it will appear. Give it a try. It's not hard to get used to, but if you don't care for it, you can easily revert to your original keyboard default (United States 101) via the control panel. (A hot key can also be set up to switch quickly between keyboards.) But for anyone who does a lot of typing in French, this is the fastest, most efficient way to type. It is wonderful to see French as it was meant to be written, even in e-mail messages.

            For the euro sign () using this method type CTRL - ALT - 5 at the same time.

            For French quotation marks (  ) using this method use CTRL - ALT - [ and ]


          If you use MS Office 2000, and do not wish to change your keyboard as above, shortcut keys for accents exist within all Office 2000 applications (including Word, Access, Outlook, Excel). This will not work for applications outside the MS Office 2000 Suite and will not work in earlier versions of Office.:

         The shortcut keys are all listed under help on the Word menu bar. Find them by searching help for character, selecting Insert symbols and special characters, then selecting Insert an international character using shortcut keys. Print the page to refer to as you type.
         The advantage to this method is you don't have to modify your keyboard. Students at many universities are unable to do so, anyway.
         The disadvantage is that MS Office shortcut keys will not work with other applications, such as Netscape, IE Explorer (for French searches, e.g.), Notepad, interactive language CDs, e-mail other than MS Outlook, and many more).
         Nevertheless, for those who do a lot of typing in French (especially in applications outside Office 2000), and are able to modify their keyboard as in II above without inconveniencing other users of the computer, II represents the best long-term solution for typing accented letters.

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[Cow with fleur de lys spots] Webmaster
Ken Fleurant
University of Wisconsin--Green Bay
Green Bay, Wisconsin 54311
page updated: 4 november 2002