How to Find and Insert Special Characters in Mac Mail

Add accent marks and other international characters

If you want to type names or phrases in almost any language other than English, the letters you find on your Mac keyboard may not be enough.

Fortunately, the Mail application in macOS and Mac OS X makes it easy—comfortable even—to input just about any (Unicode) character in your email messages.

Add Keyboard Accents in macOS the Easy Way

Beginning with macOS, adding common accents and characters couldn't be easier. Position the cursor where you want an accented character. Press and hold the key on the keyboard. A pop-up menu appears containing any accents available for that key. You can either click the one you want or type the numeral that appears beneath it to apply the accent.

A Mac Mail email showing the accents available for the letter e

The available accents and umlauts change depending on the character you are typing. Not every character has accents, so you won't see a pop-up menu for them.

The accents available in this way are the most frequently used choices. If you need a wider selection or a difficult-to-find accent, you may be able to generate it using the Option key.

Keyboard Accents With Option Key in macOS and Mac OS X

You can also get accents—including some not available using the easy way above—with the Option key in macOS and Mac OS X. The standard U.S. keyboard includes keys that let you add accent marks. Some common combinations (where the first line represents the accent key, the second line the character typed following the accent key and the third line what appears on screen):

  • Option-E
  • e u i o
  • é ú í ó
  • Option-`
  • e u i o a
  • è ù ì ò à
  • Option-I
  • e u i o
  • ê û î ô
  • Option-N
  • n o a
  • ñ õ ã
  • Option-U
  • e y u i o a
  • ë ÿ ü ï ö ä

Infrequently used accents can be obtained with the Option key. Option-C nets you ç. Option-Q results in œ. The Yen symbol is at Option-Y, and Option-Shift-2 outputs the symbol.

Insert International or Special Characters in an Email in Mac OS X

If you use Mac OS X, you have other options, including the Input Menu, but using it requires extra effort. To insert an international or special character in your email:

  • Select System Preferences from the Apple menu.
  • Click International.
  • Go to the Input Menu tab.
  • Make sure Character Palette is checked.
  • Switch to the email you are composing.
  • From the input menu, select Show Character Palette.
  • Find the desired character (browse by category or use the search bar.
  • Double-click the character to insert it.

Type Multiple Foreign Characters in Mac OS X

If the character palette seems a bit clumsy for inserting longer sequences of text, you can enable a suitable keyboard layout that puts the needed characters within easy reach.

  • Select System Preferences from the Apple menu.
  • Click International.
  • Go to the Input Menu tab.
  • Make sure each desired input method or keyboard layout is checked.
  • While composing your message, click the input menu to select the desired keyboard layout or input method.
  • When you have finished typing, use the input menu to switch back to your normal keyboard layout.

If you're unsure where on the keyboard you will find which character, check Keyboard Viewer in the International > Input Menu system preferences as well and select Show Keyboard Viewer from the input menu.

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