Typing foreign accents — the easy way

Accents. Don’t you love them? Computers are clever things and can write in all kinds languages. Unfortunately mere human beings can’t. If you want to type a foreign accent — and if they’re needed you should — then things can get decidedly sticky.

On the Mac accents are relatively straightforward and quite logical when it comes to grave and acute. Anything more complicated though usually involves an unmemorable key combination.

On Windows foreign accents are a mess. Key combinations that work in Word won’t work in other apps. All too often you end up reaching for obscure alt and number combinations to get what you want. Yeuch. Can’t help there. But if you regularly type foreign accents in Word or Scrivener there is a much easier way to get them than trying to remember those key combinations.

Here’s how.  Let’s imagine we want to write the name Asbjørn. In Windows the standard way to get that accented o on a British (and US?) keyboard in any app is by holding down the Alt key then typing 0248. In Word you can also use the key combination Ctr-/ o. On the Mac I’m told it’s the rather easier o with option (though I haven’t tried).

Either way this is unnecessary wasted brain power if you’re producing fiction. I write in English and use accents in common words, character names and locations. I don’t throw sentences in foreign languages into the text (because people shouldn’t have to reach for a dictionary to understand a novel in my view).

So there’s a much simpler route to solving this problem. Use computer power instead of brain power, specifically the ability of any decent writing app to autocorrect words you specify.

In Scrivener it works like this. Go to the Substitutions option in Corrections (I’m on Windows here, you may find it labelled slightly differently on the Mac). Set it this correction routine.


On Word you do something similar in Autocorrect (this is Office 2013).

Word foreignYou only have to find that awkward foreign accent once, to put it into the correction form here. After that every time I want to insert ‘Asbjørn’ I simply type ‘Asjborn’. Word or Scrivener automatically corrects the spelling. Oh, and in Office 2013 if you set up these correction shortcuts they work across the board, in Word, Outlook and OneNote (and perhaps Excel, not that I ever go there).

This is my idea of automation. You don’t have to remember any keyboard shortcuts. You don’t have to worry about your lousy typing. If your book includes complex words or names like Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch it might be an idea to set up a correction shortcut for those too. Though I hope you won’t use it too often.

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