How to Type Spanish Accents and Punctuation on a Mac

No Extra Software Installation Necessary

Typing on Mac laptop
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They say computing is easier with a Mac, and indeed it is when typing Spanish accented letters and punctuation symbols.

Unlike Windows, the Macintosh operating system does not require you to install a special keyboard configuration to type letters with diacritical marks. Instead, the capability for the characters is ready for you from the first time you turn your computer on.

The Easiest Way to Type Accented Letters on a Mac

If you have a Mac from 2011 (OS X 10.7, aka "Lion") or later, you're in luck—it provides what may be the easiest way in computing today to type accented letters without using a keyboard made specifically for Spanish. The method uses the Mac's built-in spelling-correction software.

If you have a letter that needs a diacritical mark, hold the key down longer than usual and a pop-up menu will appear. Simply click on the correct symbol and it will insert itself in what you're typing.

If this method doesn't work, it may be because the software you're using (e.g. a word processor) doesn't take advantage of the feature built into to the operating system. It is also possible that you may have the "key repeat" function turned off, so double-check that it's enabled.

The Traditional Way to Type Accented Letters on a Mac

If you like options, there is another way—it isn't intuitive, but it is easy to master. The key is that to type a modified letter (e.g. é, ü, or ñ), you type a special key combination followed by the letter.

For example, to type vowels with an acute accent on them (namely the á, é, í, ó, and ú), press the Option key and the "e" key at the same time, and then release the keys. This tells your computer that the next letter will have the acute accent. So to type á, press the Option and "e" keys at the same time, release them, and then type the "a." If you want it capitalized, the process is the same, except press the "a" and the shift key at the same time, as you would normally for a capital "a."

The process is similar for other special letters. To type the ñ, press the Option and "n" keys at the same time and release them, then press the "n." To type the ü, press the Option and "u" keys at the same time and release them, then press the "u."

To summarize:

  • á — Option + e, a
  • Á — Option + e, Shift + a
  • é — Option + e, e
  • É — Option + e, Shift + e
  • í — Option + e, i
  • Í — Option + e, Shift + i
  • ñ — Option + n, n
  • Ñ — Option + n, Shift + n
  • ó — Option + e, o
  • Ó — Option + e, Shift + o
  • ú — Option + e, u
  • Ú — Option + e, Shift + u
  • ü — Option + u, u
  • Ü — Option + u, Shift + u

Typing Spanish Punctuation on a Mac

To type Spanish punctuation, it is necessary to press two or three keys at the same time. Here are the combinations to learn:

  • inverted question mark (¿) — Shift + Option + ?
  • inverted exclamation point (¡) — Option + 1
  • left angle quote («) — Option + \
  • right angle quote (») — Shift + Option + \
  • quotation dash () — Shift + Option + -

Using the Mac Character Palette to Type Accented Letters

Some versions of the Mac OS also offer an alternative method. Known as the Character Palette, it is more cumbersome than the above method but can be used if you forget the key combinations. To open the Character Palette, open the Input menu on the top right of the menu bar. Then, within the Character Palette, select "Accented Latin" and the characters will display. You can insert them into your document by double-clicking on them. In some versions of the Mac OS, the Character Palette may also be available by clicking on the Edit menu of your word processor or other application and selecting "Special Characters."

Typing Accented Letters With iOS

If you have a Mac, chances are that you're a fan of the Apple ecosystem and are also using an iPhone and/or iPad using iOS as an operating system. Never fear: Typing accents with iOS isn't difficult at all.

To type an accented vowel, simply tap and lightly press on the vowel. A row of characters including the Spanish characters will pop up (along with characters using other types of diacritical marks such as those of French). Simply slide your finger over to the character you want, such as the é, and release.

Similarly, the ñ can be selected by pressing and holding the virtual "n" key. The inverted punctuation marks can be selected by pressing on the question and exclamation keys. To type angular quotes, press on the double-quote key. To type a long dash, press on the hyphen key.

This procedure also works with many Android phones and tablets.