Write Unicode characters with a Compose key

  • August 11, 2008
  • Avatar for jacob

Caps Lock key

I think we all can agree: Caps Lock is a useless key, and should be removed from keyboard models. Until that time comes, there is still a use you can assign to the massive spacetaker above Shift. It might renew your faith in typing.

Say you are working on a document that has a lot of trademark symbols. In many cases, you could just press Ctrl+Shift+U and then type 2122, but that's too tedious and you have to type this character a lot. What do you do? You set a Compose key.

A Compose key is a key (or key combination) that you can press, followed by two characters, to produce special symbols outside of the normal ASCII range. And I sure hope you've guessed this by now: Caps Lock will be our Compose key.

Open System > Preferences > Keyboard, and switch to the Layouts tab, where you will find Layout Options. In Layout Options, look for Compose key position. Check the box labeled Caps Lock.

Compose Key Dialog

These instructions are for KDE 3.5, and may or may not be similar for KDE 4. Open KControl, and go to Regional & Accessibility > Keyboard Layout. On the Xkb options tab, select Enable xkb options. Find Compose key position as in GNOME, and check the Caps Lock box.

Now it's time to have some fun. Open up a text editor and try some combinations out. Don't hold any keys down, just press Caps Lock, then the first character, then the second character. In the first example, you would press Caps Lock, then O, then C. Capitalization matters in most situations.

  • o c makes ©
  • o r makes ®
  • t m makes ™
  • . . makes … (ellipsis)
  • o o makes ° (degree)
  • c = makes €
  • L = makes ₤
  • ` a makes à
  • / o makes ø
  • t h makes þ
  • ? ? makes ¿

There are hundreds of other combinations to try out. The best way to find them is to simply type different things. If you want to know how to type a certain character, say, Æ, guess logical combinations (such as A and E).

Caps Lock image CC-BY, Tom Harpel. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:CAPS_LOCK.JPG

Avatar for jacob Jacob Peddicord

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