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How to Use Special Characters in Word 2013

By Dan Gookin

Word 2013 lets you type all 26 letters of the alphabet. With other special characters — plus, numbers 1 through 9 and 0, a smattering of symbols, and punctuation thingies, that’s a lot to type.

Some authors spend their entire lives weaving those characters into a tapestry of text heretofore unseen in literary history. As if that weren’t enough, you can sprinkle even more characters into your document, spicing it up like garlic in a salad.

Nonbreaking spaces and hyphens

Two unique characters in a document are the space and the hyphen. These characters are special because Word uses either of them to wrap a line of text: The space splits a line between two words, and the hyphen (using hyphenation) splits a line between a word’s syllables.

Sometimes, however, you don’t want a line to be split by a space or a hyphen. For example, splitting a phone number is bad — you want the phone number to stay intact. And you may desire to have two words that are separated by a space to be stuck together like glue. For those times, you need unbreakable characters.

  • To prevent the hyphen character from breaking a line, press Ctrl+Shift+- (hyphen).

  • To prevent the space character from breaking a line, press Ctrl+Shift+spacebar.

In either case, a nonbreaking character is inserted into the text. Word doesn’t break a line of text when you use one of these special characters.

The only way to discern whether your document has a nonbreaking space or hyphen is to use the Show/Hide command on the Home tab. (It’s the ¶ symbol button.) The code for a nonbreaking hyphen is a box with a tiny question mark in it. The code for a nonbreaking space is the degree symbol.

Type characters such as Ü, Ç, and Ñ

You can be boring and type deja vu or be all fancy and type déjà vu or café or résumé. Your readers will think that you know your stuff, but what you really know is how to use Word’s diacritical prefix keys.

Diacritical symbols appear over certain letters in foreign languages and in foreign words borrowed (stolen, really) into English. To create a diacritical in Word, you press a special Control-key combination. The key combination you press somewhat represents the diacritical you need, such as Ctrl+’ to produce the ’ diacritical. The Ctrl-key combination is followed by the character that needs the new “hat.”

Prefix Key Characters Produced
Ctrl+’ á é í ó ú
Ctrl+` à è ì ò ù
Ctrl+, ç
Ctrl+@ å
Ctrl+: ä ë ï ö ü
Ctrl+^ â ê î ô û
Ctrl+~ ã õ ñ
Ctrl+/ ø

For example, to insert an é into your document, press Ctrl+’ and then type the letter E. Uppercase E gives you É, and lowercase e gives you é. It makes sense because the ’ (apostrophe) is essentially the character you’re adding to the vowel.

Be sure to note the difference between the apostrophe (or tick) and back tick, or accent grave. The apostrophe (’) is next to your keyboard’s Enter key. The back tick (`) is below the Esc key.

For the Ctrl+@, Ctrl+:, Ctrl+^, and Ctrl+~ key combinations, you also need to press the Shift key, which is required anyway to produce the @, :, ^, or ~ symbols that are on your keyboard. Therefore, Ctrl+~ is really Ctrl+Shift+`. Keep that in mind.

Word’s AutoCorrect feature has been trained to know some special characters. For example, when you’re typing café, Word automatically sticks that whoopty-doop over the e.

How to insert special characters and symbols

The Symbol menu is nestled in the Symbols group on the Insert tab. Clicking the Symbol command button lists some popular or recently used symbols. Choosing a symbol from the menu inserts the special symbol directly into your text.

Choosing More Symbols from the Symbol menu displays the Symbol dialog box. Choose a decorative font, such as Wingdings, from the Font menu to see strange and unusual characters. To see the gamut of what’s possible with normal text, choose (normal text) from the Font drop-down list. Use the Subset drop-down list to see even more symbols and such.


To stick a character into your document from the Symbol dialog box, select the symbol and click the Insert button.

You need to click the Cancel button when you’re done using the Symbol dialog box.

  • Click the Insert button once for each symbol you want to insert. When you’re putting three Σ (sigma) symbols into your document, you must locate that symbol on the grid and then click the Insert button three times.

  • Some symbols have shortcut keys. They appear at the bottom of the Symbol dialog box. For example, the shortcut for the degree symbol (°) is Ctrl+@, spacebar — press Ctrl+@ (actually, Ctrl+Shift+2) and then type a space. Doing so gives you the degree symbol.

  • You can insert symbols by typing the symbol’s character code and then pressing the Alt+X key combination. For example, the character code for Σ (sigma) is 2211: Type 2211 in your document and then press Alt+X. The number 2211 is magically transformed into the Σ character.