Squiggles and dots

Dear “lazyweb“,

How do I type all those funny European squiggles and dots on the mere 26-letter US keyboard on my Lenovo X61 laptop in Linux? Searching Google and copy-pasting found characters is getting old pretty quickly. The correct way to type these characters is not obvious.

If it involves special scripts and downloading configuration files, I am not interested. How would one of those normal, non-geek user do this? I’d like to know the proper way.

(For “bonus points”, typing a Euro sign would be great too.)

Thanks in advance,
Umlautless in Deutschland

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22 Responses to “Squiggles and dots”

  1. Luciano says:

    configure your keyboard to have one “Compose” key.
    I map my compose key to the right alt, normally, but there are other otherwise useless keys on most keyboards…

    Once you have done that, to type €, you press compose, then C and then =.

    È is compose, ` and E, Ñ is compose, ~ and N, and so on.

  2. JZ says:

    ä = Alt+0228 (type on NumBlock)
    ö = Alt+0246
    ü = Alt+0252
    ß = Alt+0223

    Ä = Alt+0196
    Ö = Alt+0214
    Ü = Alt+0220
    € = Alt+0128

  3. Zach Beane says:

    Under the keyboard prefs in gnome, under Layout Options, I have Compose Key Position set to “Right Ctrl is Compose”. Then I can type Right-ctrl squiggle-or-dots letter to produce a squiggly or dotty letter. As Luciano mentions, Right-ctrl = C produces €.

  4. James Henstridge says:

    You can type the Euro symbol by holding down control and shift then typing “u20ac”. For infrequently used characters it might be workable, but Luciano’s solution is more efficient if you’ll be typing them lots.

  5. creative solution:

    One small pot of acrylic paint, colour of your own choice
    One fine paint brush suitable for models


  6. Ryan Pavlik says:

    The easiest way to do this is to add the US-International layout (or something that looks like it) – then you can type ‘a and get á, “a gives you ä, ~n gives ñ, etc. Right-alt and 1 gives ¡. There is a character map available (you must add the little panel applet for layout first) to find the others.

  7. I for one sometime use GNOME’s Character palette. It is an applet that sits on the panel with a configurable selection of characters that are not present on the US Keyboard for instance. Once you click on the character, it is copied to the clipboard, you can then past it where you want. That’s pretty much how a mom can learn to do it lol

  8. I have used several solutions over the years:
    – Use a Compose key. In the past, I had to hack the X keyboard config or play with xmodmap and friends, but now it’s just a matter of going to Keyboard Preferences / Layout Options / Compose key position.
    – Add the Character Palette applet to your panel. If you only need a small set of “strange characters” and you do no use them too frequently, then you can move the mouse to the panel from time to time and pick the character that you need. I usually define my own palette containing the characters that I use the most frequently, so that I can get them with a single mouse click instead of two.
    – Use an old copy of emacs 20.x with the accents-mode, which worked a bit like a Compose key but without the compose key. :-) In practice, this was rather annoying because I had to remember to type a space after every quote character if I did not want it to be combined automatically with the following vowel to form an accented character.

    Nowadays, I use a combination of Compose key and Character picker applet, depending on the computer I use and the characters I need.

  9. menesis says:

    If you live in that country, even if for a short time, you can add that language keyboard, learn it, and switch to it when you need to type something in that language. Punctuation often is in different places so you switch only for typing some words.
    Lots of us in strange European countries do use US keyboards with our language keymaps, i.e. there are no local symbols on the physical keyboard, but we remember what is where.
    € is usually AltGr+Shift+E.

  10. Tomasz says:

    On polish layout to get “ü” I had to press RightAlt+[, release, and then press “u”. It called deadkey or something like that.

  11. i for myself love the charpick applet for stuff like that, but probably it’s not faster than entering the letters by some keyboard combinations. Viel Vergnügen.

  12. Frej Soya says:

    Using a US mac keyboard myself – for easier access to often used code characters.

    Just make sure the layout in gnome-keyboard-properties is “USA International” or similar. Compose key gives you access to all kinds of weird symbols (i think xev recognizes it as ISO_LEVEL3_SHIFT).

    If no key is set for this, in the advanced options for layout you can actually select what keys you “Third level choosers”

    Yes this is horrendues horrible and craptastic. A lot of this should be defaults, and a lot of the keyboard layouts/options makes no sense. Took me years to figure this out.

  13. I set the Windows key to Compose and Menu key to Super. This works on my Lenovo R60. You can do this in the GNOME keyboard preferences. Then you can type € by doing Compose-C-=. ä is Compose-“-a. All the settings can be seen in /usr/share/X11/locale/en_US.UTF-8/Compose (on my Debian system).

  14. Hub says:

    I second the fist comment.

    Configure right-Alt to compose. That’s what I have been doing. Gnome has a UI for that.

    compose ” u makes ü


  15. I use a custom layout, based on the us-intl layout. The us-intl layout lets you do everything you want to do already. You can customize it, though, if you wish, by modifying the following file:


    The us-intl layout has dead keys, so to type ” you would press “. To type über, you would type “uber. To type résumé, you would type r’esum’e. To type niño, you would type ni~no.

    I also have some typographic keys mapped: the typographic quotes, the em dash, the en dash, the ellipsis, and others. You also get to type © (usually Right Alt+c), ¢ (Right Alt+C), and € (Right Alt+5).

    You can change your layout if you use GNOME by using System→Preferences→Keyboard, under the Layouts tab. HTH!

  16. Duncan Mac-Vicar says:

    In KDE, I turn on keyboards layouts, add the languages I use frequently (english, spanish, german) and a flag appears in the tray.

    Clicking the flags switches across the layouts.

  17. Jaime says:

    And the code for deadkey / composekey combinations comes from gtkimcontextsimple.c

    For example, there are 4 lines giving combinations for the euro:

    GDK_Multi_key, GDK_equal, GDK_C, 0, 0, 0x20AC, /* EURO_SIGN */
    GDK_Multi_key, GDK_equal, GDK_e, 0, 0, 0x20AC, /* EURO_SIGN */
    GDK_Multi_key, GDK_C, GDK_equal, 0, 0, 0x20AC, /* EURO_SIGN */
    GDK_Multi_key, GDK_e, GDK_equal, 0, 0, 0x20AC, /* EURO_SIGN */


  18. […] asks how to type squiggles and dots in GNOME; that is, how to type characters such as á à ä ã â ą ȩ ę ő ǰ ǩ ǒ ġ ṅ ȯ ṁ […]

  19. […] friends, there’s a better way! In discovering the compose key (thanks to many awesome volunteers) a couple weeks ago, I’ve been happily typing not just […]

  20. scott says:

    never used the compose key solution. Sounds like too many keystrokes for me. I’m too lazy for additional button pushing. I use the config below in my .Xmodmap to enable me to use the CAPSLOCK key as a mode key for special characters. For instance

    CAPSLOCK-a = ä
    CAPSLOCK-s = ß
    CAPSLOCK-w = á (for those spanish emails ;)

    I never use capslock, and actually the xmodmap config keeps me from accidentally enabling capslock with my fat fingers.

    ! Use Caps_Lock as Mode_switch key
    clear Lock
    clear Mod2
    clear Mod3

    ! map capslock key to Mode_switch
    keycode 66 = Mode_switch

    ! Enhance ASCII keyboard with international characters
    keysym backslash = backslash bar aring Aring
    keysym bracketleft = bracketleft braceleft ae AE
    keysym bracketright = bracketright braceright oslash Ooblique
    keysym comma = comma less cedilla guillemotleft
    keysym equal = equal plus plusminus plusminus
    keysym grave = grave asciitilde degree degree
    keysym minus = minus underscore division notsign
    keysym period = period greater periodcentered guillemotright
    keysym slash = slash question exclamdown questiondown
    keysym 0 = 0 parenright oacute Oacute
    keysym 1 = 1 exclam onesuperior onequarter
    keysym 2 = 2 at twosuperior onehalf
    keysym 3 = 3 numbersign threesuperior threequarters
    keysym 4 = 4 dollar eacute Eacute
    keysym 6 = 6 asciicircum copyright registered
    keysym 7 = 7 ampersand yacute Yacute
    keysym 8 = 8 asterisk uacute Uacute
    keysym 9 = 9 parenleft iacute Iacute
    keysym a = a A adiaeresis Adiaeresis
    keysym b = b B otilde Otilde
    keysym c = c C ccedilla Ccedilla
    keysym d = d D egrave Egrave
    keysym e = e E ediaeresis Ediaeresis
    keysym f = f F eth Eth
    keysym g = g G thorn Thorn
    keysym h = h H ucircumflex Ucircumflex
    keysym i = i I idiaeresis Idiaeresis
    keysym j = j J ugrave Ugrave
    keysym k = k K igrave Igrave
    keysym l = l L ograve Ograve
    keysym m = m M mu mu
    keysym n = n N ntilde Ntilde
    keysym o = o O odiaeresis Odiaeresis
    keysym p = p P ocircumflex Ocircumflex
    keysym q = q Q acircumflex Acircumflex
    keysym r = r R ecircumflex Ecircumflex
    keysym s = s S ssharp section
    keysym t = t T icircumflex Icircumflex
    keysym u = u U udiaeresis Udiaeresis
    keysym v = v V atilde Atilde
    keysym w = w W aacute Aacute
    keysym x = x X multiply multiply
    keysym y = y Y ydiaeresis ydiaeresis
    keysym z = z Z agrave Agrave

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