My wife was chatting with someone who asserted that he could not enter a ‘#’ because he’s using a Mac. He later refined his argument to be because he’s using a British Mac and his shifted-3 is a ‘£’. Finally, he refined his argument to be because he couldn’t be bothered to put forth the effort.

Spoiler: On British/American keyboards, use Shift-3 or Alt-3 to get # or £.

This led me to wonder how one enters special characters on a Mac. I’m familiar with the system character chooser on Windows. How does Mac do this?

One-time setup:

  • Go to ‘System Preferences’ and open the Keyboard applet. Select the ‘Input Sources’ tab.
  • Using the ‘+’ button, add any missing items from the following list:
    • British
    • Dvorak (If you use it. I do.)
    • U.S.
    • Unicode Hex Input
  • If you have trouble locating any of the items above, use the Search field.
  • Be sure to put a checkmark in the “Show input menu in menu bar”. This will add an icon to you menu bar.
    • Be sure you know which one it is. You can toggle the checkmark off and on to check which icon.
  • This is optional, but spiffy:
    • Select any one of the keyboards which you’ve added with the ‘+’. Mac will display that layout to the right. Ho hum.
    • Press and hold the Shift key. Mac will show you the shifted form of the layout.
    • Press and hold the Alt key. Mac will show what happens if you enter the Alt form of that keystroke.
    • You can do this for any of the installed keyboard layouts.

Using alternate keyboard layouts

One approach:

  • Click the input menu in the menu bar. (Mine says “DV” because I use Dvorak. Yours is probably the flag for your country.)
  • Choose “Show Keyboard Viewer”. You’ll see a keyboard image.
  • Hold down Alt to see the alt form of each key.
  • If you see the one you want, press it!

Another approach: This one works for esoteric keystrokes.

  • Click the input menu in the menu bar. Choose “Show emoji and symbols”.
  • Browse through the menus to find the symbol you want and double-click it to ‘type’ that symbol. 😀