Currently I use the character palette applet in gnome panel to put special characters into text.

This is okay, but I have to stop typing, select the character I want from the applet and then copy and paste.

Is there a way to simply type special characters with different key combinations? If so, how do I do it?


Often this is easier with the compose key. With that configured you use key combos to get the special characters. For instance:

  • For ë you press Compose+", e.
  • For you press Compose+~, e.
  • For ô you press Compose+^, o.
  • For á you press Compose+', a.
  • For à you press Compose+`, a.
  • For you press Compose+=, e.
  • For £ you press Compose+-, l.

Note that you do not have to hold down the compose key; just press each key in order.

To set the compose key go to System -> Preferences -> Keyboard, then Layouts -> Options. Open up Compose Key Position and choose a key. I use Right-Alt.

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    Spot on, except for one thing - you don't need to hold down the compose key at all. Just hit the compose key, `, then a, and voilà! – Jeremy Kerr Jul 29 '10 at 13:16
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    I recommend assigning the Compose key to Caps Lock, which I am pretty sure only comes standard on keyboards to annoy people. – tyjkenn Aug 16 '12 at 1:15
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    á <-- it worked! – Dave Jun 26 '15 at 4:09
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    At least for Ubuntu 16.04 the described path doesn't work. Neither is there a preferences section in System (it's called System Settings), nor is there a Layout section in Keyboards (it's called Keyboard, without s). – MERose Jan 10 '18 at 19:59
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    This is the answer for distros from 10 years ago (which reflects the documentation, ironically). Neither one works for 20.04. The question needs to be tagged as ubuntu-10 or something. – Chaim Eliyah Sep 21 at 17:57

If you know the unicode value of the character you'd like to type, hit CTRL+SHIFT+u and then type the unicode.



results in λ.

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    I seriously didn't know this was possible. Many thanks. For anyone wondering where to find the unicode umm... codes, unicode.org/charts/index.html is the place to go. – taneli Jul 25 '12 at 20:02
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    Seriously, only people on Windows do that. – rds Sep 19 '13 at 20:01
  • do you know how to do this in wps office? – Marcel Oct 19 '15 at 21:29
  • @taneli also you can use other way. click the Keyboard Layout Icon on the top bar, then click the Character Map link in the dropdown menu. – user513724 Mar 20 '16 at 13:58

The easiest way I've found to do this is to set your keyboard layout to USA International (AltGr dead keys), then use Right-Alt+whatever to get the character you want. Obviously this does not work for all international/special characters, so if you need one that's not available through this method, use one of the other methods listed here.

Wikipedia gives us a handy diagram of the available characters and the keys they are mapped to.

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  • It's also relatively easy to edit a keyboard layout file and tailor it to one's needs: — – «» “” … – ΤΖΩΤΖΙΟΥ Sep 4 '10 at 0:32
  • Most local keyboard layouts (e.g. Belgian, French, etc.) also support AltGr, but the selection and location of special characters will be different. The exact layout can be seen on a similar diagram from inside the keyboard configuration. – JanC Jun 9 '11 at 13:23
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    Using English (international AltGr dead keys) as keyboard layout, use Right-Alt + R to get ë/Ë. Right-Alt + Q = ä/Ä; Right-Alt + P = ö/Ö; Right-Alt + Y = ü/Ü; Right-Alt + S = ß – c0xc Apr 26 '17 at 15:13
  • Alt-Gr + dead key is available from scratch. It saved my life when selecting a Wi-Fi hotspot with a special character in the name, as I was performing a fresh Ubuntu install. – Laurent Caillette Jul 8 '18 at 17:02

Here is an answer close to 1st answer, with a little alternative: I do not need to use compose because I set my keyboard to English US international instead of English US or English UK.

So I use the following combo:
" then e for ë
' then e for é
` then e for è
` then a for à
~ then n for ñ

" then spaceBar for "
' then spaceBar for '
` then spaceBar for `
~ then spaceBar for ~
Alt Gr plus 5 for

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  • Is this still the case in Ubuntu 15.10? I don't get this working anymore. Setting either 'English (US, international, with dead keys)' or 'English (international, dead keys via AltGr)' doesn't work. – Lode Jan 28 '16 at 21:10
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    I've found that setting the 'English (US, international, with dead keys)' actually works if set via lxkeymap (sudo apt-get install lxkeymap). Even more interesting, it only needs to be set once, as if some extra config is changed to make it work. (Dutch source: sites.google.com/site/computertip/toetsenbord) – Lode Jan 28 '16 at 21:28
  • @Lode sorry I ve not install 15.10 yet. – Boris Mar 24 '16 at 19:23

Note for dummies like myself. It took me a while...

  1. Press Cont & Shift & u together
  2. Let go of all three keys
  3. input code (for example: 00e1 for á)
  4. Enter
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  • Can you imagine someone writing a long text with accented characters using your approach?! It's not feasible. – Alexandre V. Jul 29 '18 at 21:24
  • You don't need the leading zeroes. Just e1 will work for á. – wjandrea Apr 27 '19 at 23:30

You can use Ctrl + U and type Unicode number of the sign you want to type. So for ē you have to type Ctrl + U + 113.

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    Ctrl + U is unlderline. – virtualxtc Jan 21 '19 at 19:05

Change your keyboard layout to us. intl with dead keys

Go to

Control center > keyboard > layout > add > set country to us > Select us intl. with dead keys.

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The compose key it's defined to do key combinations. It's Used to produce special characters like tildes and accents. To see the list of key names open /usr/share/X11/xkb/rules/xorg.lst and search for "compose".

This technique was tested in Lubuntu. Two ways to enter special characters:

  1. Call setxkbmap to define compose key in the current session
  2. Define compose key permanently

1). Command line $ setxkbmap -option "compose:rwin". Example to define compose key right 'Win'.

2). Open file /etc/default/keyboard and add line XKBOPTIONS="compose:rwin" (requires restart).

Example to write character ã after defining compose key. Press the compose key, then key 'a' and finally the tilde (AltGr + 4).


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