Typing French Diacritics on your Windows laptop – the easy way!

If you are an English to French translator it would be very handy to be able to type accented letter from your laptop keyboard. You may be familiar with the useful, but cumbersome, ALT+ codes. To enter a letter using this method you hold down the ALT key and type a number. For example, to type é you would use ALT + 0200. It’s hard to remember these four digit figures for each accented letter and they will work only with a numeric keypad, not the numbers across the top of your keyboard. Many laptops don’t have a numeric keyboard – so how can we get around that little problem?

TYPING ACUTE (aigu) LETTERS á é í ó ú

On Windows this is a doddle. Most of us are familiar with the ALT key but have you ever wondered what the enigmatic ALT GR key is for? Well, hold it down and punch an ‘e’. Et voilà … you get é. You can use the ALT GR key to produce the letters á é í ó ú.

TYPING GRAVE à è ì ò ù, UMLAUT ä ë ï ö ü and CIRCUMFLEX â ê î ô û and the CEDILLA ç

If you are using the US International keyboard layout you can use the so-called ‘dead’ key ‘ (which lives below the @ symbol on the UK keyboard). However, being a Brit I don’t want to switch to the US keyboard as it then messes up my £ and @ keys. So I created my own keyboard shortcuts using the handy free software AUTOHOTKEY.

It’s a little tricky to set up, but once it’s done you can type any accented letter (not just for French) using a keyboard shortcut of your choice. Download the application from www.autohotkey.com and install it.

The first time you run it, it will ask you if you want to create a sample script in your documents folder. All the keyboard shortcuts are stored as text snippets in this file.

If you then browse to your Documents folder you will see the script, AutoHotkey.ahk. Double clicking this file will load the script, which will be visible in your task bar, near the date and time on your PC. It’s the green square with the H.

Right clicking this icon brings up a menu from which you can chose ‘Edit this Script’.

The script will open in notepad. This is the file we can write our little bits of code into, to create our own shortcuts. If you never typed code before, don’t panic! It’s a piece of cake. A typical entry looks like this:

!a::
{
SendInput {à}
}
return

 

The first line means hold down the the ALT key, represented by the exclamation mark (!) and the letter ‘a’ to produce the output between the curly brackets: in this case the letter ‘a grave’, à. You just need to place a series of codes, one under the other, to produce the output you want. After adding code, or making a change, you need to go back to the right-click menu and select ‘Reload This Script’ to activate the code.

WHERE DO I GET THE ACCENTED CHARACTERS?

You can use the Character map built into windows to grab the characters you need to place between the braces {}. The character map will be hiding away under the START button, All Programs, Accessories, System Tools…….

Selecting a character from the Character Map to paste into your code.

An even easier way is to search for ‘e acute’, ‘a umlaut’ etc., in your favourite search engine or an even easier way is to copy the file I created below, which covers the accented letters you’ll need for French and a couple of extras. You can, of course, edit this to replace my keys with the ones you prefer. It doesn’t include the uppercase letters, which are much less frequently used, but you can add them if you wish. It will work with ANY character you can copy in there. You can also use the CONTROL key, in place of the ALT key by replacing the ! in the code with a ^ but be careful you don’t use of the existing windows CTL+ combinations, such as CTL+S, CTL+P and others that are being used by the system. You can combine the CTL and ALT keys so you have to hold both down, by using the !^ code. You write comments into the file by preceding them with a semi-colon e.g. ; this is a grave …

THE COMPLETE FILE containing  à è ì ò ù â ê î ô û ä ë ï ö ü ç

 

;DIACRITIC LETTERS

; a grave

!a::
{
SendInput {à}
}
return

;a circumflex

!z::
{
SendInput {â}
}
return

;a umlaut

!q::
{
SendInput {ä}
}
return

; e grave

!e::
{
SendInput {è}
}
return

;e circumflex

!d::
{
SendInput {ê}
}
return

;i grave

!i::
{
SendInput {ì}
}
return

;i circumflex

!k::
{
SendInput {î}
}
return

; o grave

!o::
{
SendInput {ò}
}
return

; o circumflex

!l::
{
SendInput {ô}
}
return

; o umlaut

![::
{
SendInput {ö}
}
return

; u grave

!u::
{
SendInput {ù}
}
return

; u circumflex

!j::
{
SendInput {û}
}
return

; c cedilla

!c::
{
SendInput {ç}
}
return

; e umlaut

!w::
{
SendInput {ë}
}
return

; u umlaut

!y::
{
SendInput {ü}
}
return

; i umlaut

!p::
{
SendInput {ï}
}
return

 

 

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