Typing Spanish Accents and Punctuation in Windows

Installing the International Keyboard

keyboard displaying Alt key
Use of an Alt key is required to type Spanish on a standard U.S. English computer keyboard. Photo by Rocco; licensed via Creative Commons.

You can type in Spanish complete with accented letters and inverted punctuation by following these instructions if you're using Microsoft Windows, the most popular operating system for personal computers — even if you're using a keyboard that shows English characters only.

The methods aren't intuitive, since PCs were designed at the start for only standard English letters and punctuation. But neither are the methods difficult for those who are comfortable configuring software or using unusual key combinations.

 

There are essentially two approaches to typing in Spanish: using the international keyboard configuration that is part of Windows, best for if you frequently type in Spanish and/or other European languages with non-English letters; or using some awkward key combinations if you have only the occasional need, if you're at an Internet café or if you're borrowing someone else's machine.

Configuring the International Keyboard

In Windows XP: From the main Start menu, go to the Control Panel and click on the Regional and Language Options icon. Select the Languages tab and click the "Details..." button. Under "Installed Services" click "Add..." Find the United States-International option and select it. In the pull-down menu, select United States-International as the default language. Click OK to exit the menu system and finalize the installation.

In Windows Vista: The method is very similar to that for Windows XP.

From the Control Panel, select "Clock, Language and Region." Under Regional and Language Options, pick "Change keyboard or other input method." Select the General tab. Under "Installed Services" click "Add..." Find the United States-International option and select it. In the pull-down menu, select United States-International as the default language.

Click OK to exit the menu system and finalize the installation.

In Windows 8 and 8.1: The method is similar to that for earlier versions of Windows. From the Control Panel, select "Language." Under "Change your language preferences," click on "Options" to the right of the already installed language, which will probably be English (United States) if you're from the U.S. Under "Input method," click on "Add an input method." Select "United States-International." This will add the international keyboard to a menu located at the lower right of the screen. You can use the mouse to choose between it and the standard English keyboard. You can also switch keyboards by pressing the Windows key and the space bar simultaneously.

Using the International Keyboard

With the "right-Alt" method: The easier (at least for me) of the two available ways of using the international keyboard involves pressing the right-Alt key (the key labeled "Alt" or sometimes "Alt Gr" on the right side of the keyboard, usually to the right of the space bar) and then another key simultaneously. To add the accents to the vowels, press the right-Alt key at the same time as the vowel. For example, to type á, press the right-Alt key and the a at the same time.

If you're capitalizing to make Á, you'll have to press three keys simultaneously — the a, right-Alt and the shift key.

The method is the same for the ñ — press the right-Alt key and the n at the same time. To capitalize it, also press a shift key.

To type the ü, you'll need to press right-Alt and the y key.

The inverted question mark (¿) and inverted exclamation point (¡) are done similarly. Press right-Alt and the 1 key (which also is used for the exclamation point) for the inverted exclamation point; for the inverted question mark, press right-Alt and the question mark key at the same time.

The only other special character used in Spanish but not English are the angular quotation marks (« and »). To make those, press the right-Alt key and one of the bracket keys (usually to the right of the p) simultaneously.

With the "sticky keys" method: This method can be used to make the accented vowels. To make an accented vowel, press the single-quote key (usually to the right of the colon key) and then, after releasing the key, type the vowel. To make the ü, press the shift and quote keys (as if you were making a double quote) and then, after releasing the key, type the u

Because of the "stickiness" of the quote key, when you type a quote mark, initially nothing will appear on your screen until you type the next character. If you type anything other than a vowel (which will show up accented), the quote mark will appear followed by the character you just typed. To type a quote mark, you'll need to press the quote key twice.

Note that some word processors or other software may not let you use the key combinations of the international keyboard because they are reserved for other uses.

Typing Spanish Without Reconfiguring the Keyboard

If you have a full-size keyboard, Windows has two ways to type in Spanish without having to set up the international software, although both are cumbersome. If you're using a laptop, you may be limited to the first method below.

Using Character Map: Character Map allows you to type almost any character, as long as it exists in the font you are using. To access Character Map, type "charmap" (without the quotes) in the search box made available by pressing the Start menu at the lower left of the screen. Then click on "charmap" in the search results to launch the program. If Character Map is available from the regular menu system, you can also select it that way.

To use Character Map, click on the character you want, then click the Select button, then press the Copy button. Click your cursor in your document where you wish the character to appear, and then press the Ctrl and V keys at the same time. Your character should appear in your text.

Using the numeric keypad: Windows allows the user to type any available character by holding down one of the Alt keys while typing in a numeric code on the numeric keypad, if one is available.

For example, to type the long dash — such as those used surrounding this clause — hold down the Alt key while typing 0151 on the numeric keypad. Here is a chart showing the combinations you're most likely to need when typing Spanish. Note that these will work only with the numeric keypad, not withthe numbers in the row above the letters.

  • á — 0225
  • Á — 0193
  • é — 0233
  • É — 0201
  • í — 0237
  • Í — 0205
  • ñ — 0241
  • Ñ — 0209
  • ó — 0243
  • Ó — 0211
  • ú — 0250
  • Ú — 0218
  • ü — 0252
  • Ü — 0220
  • ¿ — 0191
  • ¡ — 0161
  • « — 0171
  • » — 0187
  • — — 0151