How to Type Spanish Accents, Characters, and Punctuation in Windows

The Alt key on a black keyboard is required for Spanish accents and punctuation

Rocco / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

You can type in Spanish on Microsoft Windows machines—complete with accented letters and inverted punctuation—even if you're using a keyboard that shows English characters only. There are essentially three approaches to typing Spanish in Windows. First, use the international keyboard configuration that is part of Windows, best for if you frequently type in Spanish. Alternatively, you can use built in character maps. Finally, you can use 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.

Tips

  • If you often type in Spanish in Microsoft Windows, you should install the international keyboard software that is part of Windows and use the right Alt key for the Spanish symbols.
  • If the keyboard software isn't available, you can use the character map app to individually select the letters and special characters you need.
  • The numeric keypad on a full-size keyboard can also be used for Spanish characters using Alt codes.

Configuring the International Keyboard

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Windows 10: From the "Ask me anything" search box in the lower left, type "Control" (without the quotes) and launch the Control Panel. Under "Clock, Language, and Region," select "Change input methods." Under "Change your language preferences," you will likely see "English (United States)" as your current option. (If not, adjust the following steps accordingly.) Click on "Options" to the right of the language name. Click on "Add an input method" and choose "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.

International Symbols on the Right Alt Key

The easier of the two available ways of using the international keyboard involves pressing the right Alt key (the key labeled "Alt" or sometimes "AltGr" 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—A, right Alt, and shift.

The method is the same for the ñ, n with the tilde. Press the right Alt and the n at the same time. To capitalize it, also press the 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 either bracket key [ or ] to the right of the P simultaneously.

Special Characters Using Sticky Keys

The sticky keys method can be used to make accented vowels, too. To make an accented vowel, press ', the single-quote key (usually to the right of ; the semicolon), and then release it and type the vowel. To make ü, press the shift and quote keys (as if you were making ", a double quote) and then, after releasing, 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 almost any character, as long as it exists in the font you are using. You can type in Spanish this way without having to set up the international software, although both options are cumbersome. If you're using a laptop, you may be limited to the first method below.

  • Character Map: Access character map, access the start menu and type charmap in the search box. Then select the charmap program in the search results. If character map is available in the regular menu system, you can also select it that way. From there, click on the character you want, then click "Select," then "Copy." Place your cursor in your document by clicking where you wish the character to appear, and then paste the character into your text by pressing Ctrl+V, or right clicking and selecting "Paste" from the menu.
  • Numeric Keypad: Windows allows the user to type any available character, including diacritical marks, 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 em dash (), hold down Alt while typing 0151 on the numeric keypad. Alt codes only work on the numeric keypad, not with the number row above the letters.
Character Alt Code
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