How to Insert Special Characters in a Windows Email

Hands typing an email on computer

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There may be times when you need more characters than can be found on a standard keyboard — whether you're doing business abroad and have a contact person whose name requires special characters or sending wedding wishes to a friend in Russian or quoting a Greek philosopher. 

There are ways to access those international characters, and it doesn't involve procuring a special keyboard from a faraway country. Here's how you can type those characters into your email. 

Insert International or Special Characters in Email Using Windows

First, if you need to insert a common phrase or maybe a location name:

  • Search for the phrase, perhaps in translation, on the web.
  • Copy and paste the desired part (or maybe only individual characters) into the email.

Use the US-International Keyboard

If you frequently type French or German words — or those of other languages involving accents, umlauts, and carets — the United States-International keyboard layout is indispensable.

To enable the layout:

  • Select Control Panel from the Start menu.

Windows Vista

  • Click Classic View.

Windows XP

  • Click Date, Time, Language, and Regional Options under Pick a Category.
  • Click Regional and Language Options.

Windows Vista

  • Go to the Keyboards and Languages tab.
  • Click Change keyboards.

Windows XP

  • Go to the Languages tab.
  • Click Details...
  • Click Add... under Installed Services.
  • Make sure English (United States) (or another English language) is selected under Input Language.
  • Select United States-International from the Keyboard layout/IME drop-down menu.
  • Click OK.
  • Click OK again.
  • Now click the language bar.
  • Select United States-International from the menu.

Using the US-International keyboard layout, you can input many oft-used characters easily. To display é, for instance, type Alt-E, or Alt-N for ñ, or Alt-Q for ä, or Alt-5 for the sign.

The US-International keyboard layout also has dead keys. When you press an accent or tilde key, nothing happens until you press another key. If the latter character accepts an accent mark, the accented version is input automatically.

For just the accent key (or quotation mark), use Space for the second character. 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):





e y u i o a

é ý ú í ó á


e u i o a

è ù ì ò à


e u i o a

ê û î ô â


o n

õ ñ


e u i o a

ë ü ï ö ä

For other languages — including those of central Europe, Cyrillic, Arabic or Greek — you can install additional keyboard layouts. (For Chinese and other Asian languages, make sure Install files for East Asian languages is checked on the Languages tab.) This only makes sense if you use these languages extensively, however, as constant switching can get tedious. 

You also need a good knowledge of the keyboard layout, as what you type will not match what you see on your physical keyboard. Microsoft Visual Keyboard (or On-Screen Keyboard in Windows 7 and later), an on-screen keyboard for Office applications, provides some solace.

Input Foreign Characters With the Character Map Utility

For occasional characters not available with the US-International keyboard, try the character map, a visual tool that allows you to select and copy many available characters.

  • Select All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Character Map from the Start menu.
  • Choose Arial Unicode MS under Font.
  • Highlight the desired character.
  • Press Select.
  • Click Copy.
  • Position the cursor in the email at the desired place.
  • Press Ctrl-V.

As an alternative to Character Map, you can use the more comprehensive BabelMap.

Fonts and Encodings

When copying a character from Character Map or BabelMap, make sure the font you use to compose the email message matches the font in the character tool. When mixing languages, it is usually safest to send the message as "Unicode."

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