How to type accent marks (etc.) in Spanish

This topic has nothing to do with linguistics, but “How do I type accent marks?” is such a frequent question that I figured it was worth a blog post. Also, I just revisited this topic when preparing a handout for my students.

For both Windows and Mac users I recommend a so-called “dead key” approach in which you press one key to set up an accent mark and a second key to actually type it. There are other techniques available for both platforms, but dead keys are the fastest.

On a Windows computer you first have to activate the “U.S. International keyboard” that is part of the Windows operating system, though most users are unaware of it. You only have to do this once. On a Windows 10 computer:

  1. Type “language” in the search bar at the bottom left of the screen.
  2. Click on “language settings” which should be the top item returned.
  3. Under “Preferred languages” click “English (United States).” Don’t be tempted to change the language to Spanish!
  4. You should now see “Options.” Click on this.
  5. On the Language options screen that comes up, click “Add a keyboard,” then scroll and select “United States-International.”

You will now be able to toggle between “ENG” and “ENG INTL” on the taskbar, just to the left of the time and date. (On an older computer the steps to activate the US International keyboard are slightly different, and you will toggle by clicking on a keyboard icon.) When in “ENG INTL” mode,

To typeDo this
an accented vowel like é or óPress the apostrophe key (‘), then the desired vowel
ü as in pingüino or guëroUse the shift key to type a double quote (“), then u
¿Press the right-alt key (might be labeled “AlgGr”), then the slash (/), which shares a key with ?
¡Press the right-alt key (might be labeled “AlgGr”), then 1, which shares a key with !
ñUse the shift key to type a tilde ~ (to the left of the number 1), then type n
apostrophe or double quoteType the punctuation mark, then hit the space bar to “release” it

On a Mac, according to my Internet research rather than personal experience, to type:

  • an accented vowel: press Option-e, then the vowel
  • ñ: press option-n, then n
  • ¿: press option-? (including shift key)
  • ¡: press option-1
  • ü: press option-u, then u

6 thoughts on “How to type accent marks (etc.) in Spanish

  1. Michael Curtin

    Re: ENG INTL
    I find that pressing the right Alt Key + the vowel (at the same time) to be a little quicker for typing an accented vowel.
    You can also use the right Alt Key + n to give ñ.
    Re: ¿ and ¡
    You just touch right Alt Key and the key that has the ? or the ! — You don’t need to do anything with the Shift Key.

  2. jhochberg Post author

    You are absolutely right about ¿ and ¡ — that shows what happens when one dashes off a blog post too quickly. I fixed this in the post. For ñ and the accented vowels I prefer the method described in the post because typing the right Alt key dislodges one’s hands from the “home keys.”

  3. Janet Terry

    You can also use the alt key and numbers. alt 160 for á, alt 130 for é, etc. ( They are listed somewhere but don’t remember where…) If you google “alt for accents” you can find all kinds of other combinations.

    1. jhochberg Post author

      I sincerely believe that the US international keyboard is a superior approach to the numerical codes, for three reasons. First, there are fewer keystrokes per accent mark. Second, there is nothing arbitrary to memorize. Third, you can use the US international keyboard with any app that you run on your computer, whereas I have the impression that the numerical codes only work in certain programs. I could be wrong about this last reason, since I have never been tempted to switch, but I’m confident about the first two.

      Of course, if you are already fluent in any one way of typing accents there’s no real motivation to change the US international keyboard (unless I’m right about the third reason). I do recommend it for people who are starting out and want to know the best way to type accents and other Spanish typographical features.


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