How to Type German Characters on a Keyboard

Keyboard typing
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Both PC and Mac users sooner or later confront this problem: How do I get ö, Ä, é, or ß out of my English-language keyboard? While Mac users don't have the problem to the same degree, they too can be left wondering which "option" key combination will produce a « or a » (the special German quotation marks). If you want to display German or other special characters on a Web page using HTML, then you have yet another problem—which we also solve for you in this section.

The chart below will clarify the special German character codes for both Macs and PCs. But first a few comments on how to use the codes:

Apple/Mac OS X

The Mac "option" key allows users to easily type most foreign letters and symbols on a standard English-language Apple keyboard. But how do you know which "option +" combination will produce which letter? After you get past the easy ones (option + u + a = ä), how do you discover the others? In Mac OS X you can use the Character Palette. To view the Character Palette you click on the "Edit" menu (in an application or in the Finder) and select "Special Characters." The Character Palette will appear. It not only shows the codes and letters, but also how they appear in various font styles. In Mac OS X there's also an "Input Menu" (under System Preferences > International) that allows you to select various foreign-language keyboards, including standard German and Swiss German.

The "International" control panel also allows you to set your language options. 

Apple/ Mac OS 9

Instead of the Character Palette, the older Mac OS 9 has "Key Caps." That feature lets you see which keys produce which foreign symbols. To view Key Caps, click on the multicolored Apple symbol at the top left, scroll down to "Key Caps" and click.

When the Key Caps window is visible, press the "option/alt" key to see the special characters it produces. Pressing the "shift" key and "option" simultaneously will reveal yet another set of letters and symbols.

Windows - Most Versions

On a Windows PC, the "Alt+" option offers a way to type special characters on the fly. But you need to know the keystroke combination that will get you each special character. Once you know the "Alt+0123" combination, you can use it to type an ß, an ä, or any other special symbol. (See our Alt-code chart for German below.) In the related feature, Can Your PC Speak German?, I explain in detail how to find the combination for each letter, but the chart below will save you the trouble. In the same feature, I explain how to select various languages/keyboards in Windows.

These codes work with most fonts. Some fonts may vary. For the PC codes, always use the numeric (extended) keypad on the right of your keyboard and not the row of numbers at the top. (On a laptop you may have to use "num lock" and the special number keys.)
For this German character, type...
PC Code
Alt +
Mac Code
option +
ä0228u, then a
Ä0196u, then A
e, acute accent
ö0246u, then o
Ö0214u, then O
ü0252u, then u
Ü0220u, then U
sharp s / es-zett