How to Quickly Type Special Characters in Linux

From time to time you may find a need to type in special characters such as when writing in a foreign language that has accentuated letters or when using mathematical symbols for homework or reports.

Although your keyboard has many keys, many of these special characters will be missing. So how do you type them into your documents?

You can use the built-in Character Map application which is bundled with your Operating System or install an application such as GNOME Characters to find the character you want and then copy and paste from there, but this is bound to be slow and tedious, especially if you need to do this on a regular basis.

This article provides two ways you can quickly type special Unicode characters in Linux without the need for an external application.

Each Unicode character has a code point assigned to it. For example, the code point for the dollar sign character ($) is U+0024. The code point is the part after U+ which in this case is “0024.”

If you do not have this character on your keyboard and want to insert it into a document, press Ctrl + Shift + U on your keyboard followed by the 4 character code point, then press Enter to produce the output.

This method requires that you memorise the Unicode code points for the characters you type often. You can find the code points for some of the most important characters for English readers in this Wikipedia article.

Utilising a compose key sequence is a simple and fast way to insert a special character in Linux. Keyboards do not have a specific compose key built in; you’ll have to define one of your existing keys as the compose key.

To define a compose key in GNOME, you’ll need to have the Gnome Tweak Tool installed. You can install it in Ubuntu by typing the following command into the terminal:

sudo apt install gnome-tweak-tool

Once it’s installed, launch it and select “Keyboard & Mouse” in the sidebar, then Click “Disabled” next to the Compose Key setting. Turn the switch on in the dialog and pick the key you want to use.

Do note that any key you set as your compose key will only function as the one you designate and not the one originally intended.

Once you have set your compose key, you can type in any character by pressing the Compose key followed by the sequence required to produce that character.

You can find the compose key sequences for many common Unicode characters on this page.

For instance, the sequence for the copyright character © is oc. To insert this character, press the Compose key followed by oc.

Likewise, to type the degree sign °, hit the Compose key followed by oo.

Notice that the compose key sequence bears some resemblance to the actual character you want to insert and does not contain more than two characters which makes it a lot easier to commit to memory.

We have covered two quick ways to insert special characters into your documents in Linux. Don’t forget to tell us which method you prefer or other alternative methods in the comments section below.