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Using special characters in GNU/Linux

February 13, 2009

If you speak a romance language, work with formulas, or deal with currencies other than the dollar, just for a few examples, it’s convenient to be able to type special characters:

à la mode
Joyeux Nöel
€100 = ¥11839
registered® trademark™ ©copyright
30° C
x³(x²) = x⁵
H₂SO₄ sulfuric acid
100 µF capacitor

One simple way to do this is to set a Compose key, that is, a key that designates the next two keystrokes as code for a special character.

You’ll need to open kcontrol, also known as KDE Control Panel.  To do this in KDE 3.5.9 or 3.5.10, go to K menu ->  Control Center.

Expand the Regional and Accessibility category.  Go to Keyboard Layout and click the Xkb tab.  Scroll down until you see Compose Key Position.

Compose key position

Compose key position

If you’re using a Windows keyboard, you probably have 2 Windows keys (and if you’re like me, you never use them and hardly remember they’re there).  The one on the right, if you have it, is located next to the right Alt key:

Right Windows key

Right Windows key

If you have this key, it tends to be the standard one to use.  You can select the option for “Right Win-key is Compose”.  If you have an older style keyboard, or are using a laptop like I am, you may not have it and will need to pick a different key.   I chose the left Windows key option in the screenshot above.

Click Apply and close the window.  The key you selected to use as the Compose key can now be used to create symbols.  For example:

Tap the Compose key, then ‘ (apostrophe) then A to get Á
Compose, ` (that’s the backtick, which is also the ~ key, next to Esc) and e gives you è
Compose ~ (that’s shift-backtick) and n for ñ
Compose = e for €
Compose = y for ¥

There is a good detailed chart here: http://hermit.org/Linux/ComposeKeys.html

Très bien comme ça!

Ω

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