Odds are, you type on a keyboard every day. Heck, you’re probably reading this article on your computer right now (unless you’re holding a printed-out copy, in which case someone else used a computer to find it).
But as often as we use computers, there’s still a lot we don’t know about them. So we editors at RD.com are breaking down the linguistic barriers of technology. Read: Figuring out everything you can possibly do with a keyboard.
There are keyboard shortcuts that make web browsing so much easier. (Did you know you could bookmark this article just by hitting Control and D on a PC or Command D on a Mac? Try it! We’ll wait.) You can harness the full potential of the F keys (F1-F12) now that we discovered exactly what they do.
And then there’s the Alt key, also called the Option key on Macs. It’s a lot like the Shift key in that it doesn’t produce symbols unless it’s pressed with another key. The Alt key functions vary depending on what type of computer you have, so we’ll start with Macs.
Most symbols the Alt key makes are ones you wouldn’t make on a regular basis unless you’re typing in a language other than English or writing a math textbook. The most commonly used ones include ¢ (Alt+4), — (em dash, Alt+Shift+Hyphen), and ˚ (degree symbol, Alt+K).
If you type in accent-heavy languages like Spanish or French, the Alt key should be your favorite key. This chart explains how to make accent characters. Remember: Type the accent sequence first, then the letter will appear underneath it. Use the Shift key as you would when making any letter capital.
Acute letters (Áá Éé Íí Óó Úú): Alt + E followed by Vowel
Grave accent (Àà Èè Ìì Òò Ùù): Alt + ` followed by Vowel
Circumflex (Ââ Êê Îî Ôô Ûû): Alt + I followed by Vowel
Umlat (Ää Ëë Ïï Öö Üü Ÿÿ): Alt + U followed by Vowel
Tilde (Ãã Ññ Õõ): Alt + N followed by Letter
Here is a full list of the symbols you can make on a Mac using Alt + another key.
Here, the symbols you can make on a Mac using Alt + Shift + another key.
With Shift + Alt
On the other hand, PCs use Alt codes to make special characters. Each code starts by holding down the Alt key followed by a series of numbers. For example, to make the ¢ symbol, hold down Alt, enter the code 0162, and release Alt. Penn State University has compiled a full list of these codes for you PC users.
Speaking of keyboards, ever wonder why the F and J keys have bumps on them? There’s a reason for that, too.