Blog - Sébastien Mouchet

How to type accented upper-case characters, and more (Windows)

Posted on June 16, 2023, by Sébastien


This blog post is mostly relevant to people who often type French text, using a Windows computer.

However, even if you never write in French, as long as you’re on Windows, keep reading:
Some techniques showcased in this post will give you access to a very wide range of special characters, which might prove useful.


The most common keyboard layout in France is the AZERTY layout, inherited from typewriters.

French AZERTY layout on Windows
French AZERTY layout on Windows
Image source: Wikipedia
Author: Campi63
License: CC BY-SA 4.0

With this keyboard layout, the caret / circumflex (^) as well as the diaeresis (¨) are dead keys, allowing anyone to type letters such as “Û” or “Ï”.

However, grave accents, acute accents, and the cedilla are represented by dedicated keys: à é è ù ç.
If you try to use them in combination with the “shift” key, you end up with, respectively: 0 2 7 % 9.

That being said, Linux and macOS users can turn them into capital letters (À É È Ù Ç), out of the box, simply by using the CAPS LOCK key.

That’s why it’s mostly a problem for Windows users.

Of course, you can always make mistakes, and then rely on spellchecking to fix them, but there are ways to get these characters, and more.

Recommended solution: a proper keyboard layout

You don’t have to buy a new keyboard or anything: this is a software solution, using freeware programs.

⚠️ Installing a new keyboard layout requires running executable files.
Make sure you download them from reputable sources.

My favorite: FR-OSS

This one is based on a standard (French) keyboard layout available on Linux.

French AZERTY layout on Linux
French AZERTY layout on Linux
Image source: Wikipedia
Author: Michka_B
License: CC BY-SA 4.0

Users familiar with the classic (Windows) AZERTY layout should feel right at home, as the positioning of the keys is exactly the same.

There are 2 major benefits, though:
Not only does it allow you to get accented caps using the CAPS LOCK key (À É È Ù Ç), but it also gives you access to a whole swath of other characters, using AltGr:

With another font:
— “Typographic” quotation marks
— "Straight" quotation marks
With a different font:
— Typographic apostrophe (’)
— Straight apostrophe (')

Even though the non-breaking space looks just like a regular space, it prevents unwanted line breaks, and should be used, in French:

I won’t bother you with the fact that there are actually 2 different widths of non-breaking spaces (you’re supposed to use the wider one for quotation marks and colons).

A Windows version of this comprehensive keyboard layout is available for download thanks to Michel Julier (Select FR‑OSS, not FR‑OSSc):

Don’t forget to set it as the default, in Windows settings (“Advanced keyboard settings”).

If you don’t remember where every character is, at first, feel free to use the “On‑Screen Keyboard” from Windows (search for it in the start menu).

More basic alternative: French keyboard with (Spanish) accents

I used the following keyboard layout for years (made by Christophe Bertrand):

It isn’t as advanced as the FR-OSS layout, and only provides:

The next level: Bépo

If you’re up for a challenge, you can even learn an entirely new keyboard layout: bépo.

First, it gives you access to all the characters you might need for French text.

But its most important feature is the completely different positioning of the keys.
In particular, the most frequently used letters in French are placed on the middle row (the “home row”), in order to minimize finger motion, and therefore limit muscle strain.
In that regard, it’s reminiscent of the Dvorak keyboard layout for English.

All characters from the bépo layout
All characters from the bépo layout
Image source:
Author: Ergodis
License: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

You can read more about the bépo keyboard layout on the wiki (in French):

For QWERTY users: the “US International” layout

If you’re more familiar with QWERTY than AZERTY, Windows provides a US layout with many additional characters, and where the following keys are dead keys:


Which allows you to type characters such as À, É, Ï, Û, Ñ, …

“US International” keyboard layout
“US International” keyboard layout
Image source: Wikipedia
License: CC BY-SA 3.0

In order to enable it:

The “US International” layout is also available for other operating systems.

Create your own layout

You can even create your own custom layout using the Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator (MSKLC):

Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator 1.4
Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator 1.4

Built-in ways to get accents and other special characters

The tools in this section are suitable for occasional use, as getting a specific character with them takes a bit more time than by using a dedicated keyboard layout.

Emoji / special character selector

On Windows 10 and Windows 11, the emoji keyboard can be opened by pressing the following shortcut:

Emoji picker from Windows 11
Emoji picker from Windows 11
“Smiley faces and animals”, from the emoji panel
“Smiley faces and animals”, from the emoji panel

In addition to emojis (which are Unicode characters, by the way, not pictures), there’s also a special character tab, including accented characters, monetary symbols, mathematical symbols, and more.

“Latin symbols”, from the symbol tab
“Latin symbols”, from the symbol tab

As soon as you click on a character, it gets inserted into the text you’re typing.

Character map

An older option – still available – is to use the character map.

Open the start menu, and search for “Character Map”.

Windows Character Map
Windows Character Map

There, you can either scroll through the table of characters, or actually use the search field.
For example, if you search for “quotation”, you’ll get 13 different characters corresponding to all kinds of quotation marks.

You can then copy and paste the chosen character.

Alt codes

Windows has supported Alt codes for a very long time.
For instance, you can enter the following characters by holding the ALT key and then typing the corresponding number sequence on the numeric keypad:

You can find a complete list on Wikipedia:

Obviously, memorizing several (dozen) codes is far from convenient.
Personally, I only ever remember ALT + 144 as the letter É is part of my first name 😄

One last alternative: PowerAccent / PowerToys

The PowerAccent utility by Damien Leroy offers an alternative way to type characters with accents, other diacritics, as well as monetary symbols and Greek letters.

You can restrict the character set to one particular language (e.g. French), or decide to use all available characters.

To use it, hold the base letter you want to use, and immediately hit either the space bar, the left arrow, or the right arrow.
Keep holding the letter key until you’ve selected the desired character.

PowerToys “Quick Accent” utility used on the uppercase letter “O”
PowerToys “Quick Accent” utility used on the uppercase letter “O”

Power users can use it as a part of Microsoft PowerToys.

Microsoft PowerToys is a set of utilities for power users to tune and streamline their Windows experience for greater productivity.

If you install the PowerToys, you’re going to get a lot more features than just accented / special characters though – and you probably don’t need all of them.

That being said, it does include the utility, named “Quick Accent” (turned off by default).