Accents & Accented Characters
by Ilene Strizver
Have you ever needed to set an accented character in copy but couldn’t find it on your keyboard? If these characters leave you feeling naïve, you’re not alone.
Diacritic characters, as these accented letters are called, are essential to the proper pronunciation and meaning of many foreign words. When you come across an accented letter, don’t assume it can be eliminated without consequence, or you might end up misspelling a person’s name! Accent marks also turn up frequently in foreign-born words and phrases that have become part of common English usage, such as résumé, passé and tête-à-tête. Happily, diacritic characters can be accessed or created with most professional-quality fonts.
Most well-made fonts from reputable manufacturers include a selection of the diacritic marks needed to set foreign words and names. Some of these are composite characters, which combine characters with accents. Others are simply the marks by themselves. These are referred to as “floating” accents, which can be combined with any character.
OpenType fonts, the most current font format, often contain a greater selection of accents and accented characters than Type1 and TrueType fonts, as they have the “room” for them. Some OpenType fonts, many of which contain the designation Pro, contain expanded foreign language support, including a full range of Central European glyphs. Some Pro fonts contain other languages as well, such as Greek or Cyrillic; it varies from font to font.
The easiest way to locate accented characters as well as floating accents in a particular font is to use the glyph palette available with most design applications, or the Character palette available with Mac OS 10.x. You can then either copy and paste the character you need, or access it with the specific key combinations indicated. Key combinations are different on Mac and PC platforms, but in both cases they define a combination of keys which, when pressed in sequence, access the character you’re looking for.
If the accented character you need is not available but the floating accent is, you can create it by using kerning and baseline or (vertical) shifting. (Most design applications support these functions). First type the character, then the accent. Then, use extreme kerning until the accent is positioned above the character. Use the baseline-shift function as necessary to position the accent vertically.
What About the Web?
Some composite characters can be accessed on the Web by inserting the appropriate HTML code. Unfortunately, you can’t use accented characters that you’ve created with floating accents and kerning on the Web.
NOTE: The information above is based on the use of the Standard U.S. English keyboard layout.
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