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How do you write Umlauts and ß on non-German keyboards?

Wie schreibt man Umlaute und ß auf einer US-Tastatur?

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US-Tastatur = non-German keyboard? ;-) – bjoernz May 31 '11 at 19:34
@bjoernz Nein, mit einer allgemeineren Übersicht wäre ich noch glücklicher, aber wie man es auf einer französischen Tastatur macht, weiß ich inzwischen. – Phira May 31 '11 at 19:36
mein Kommentar bezog sich eher auf die Übersetzung. Mit anderen Worten: "Wie schreibt man ... auf einer nicht deutschen Tastatur?" wäre vielleicht eine passendere Übersetzung. – bjoernz May 31 '11 at 19:59
I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is about computer systems, not the German language, and depends on the software that is used. – Carsten S Mar 17 at 7:04
@CarstenS Lohnt sich das, so eine alte (und für Lernende der deutschen Sprache durchaus nützliche) Frage zu schließen? – Burki Mar 17 at 8:14

14 Answers 14

up vote 10 down vote accepted

An easy way that requires just a little bit adjusting is using US International layout (it's what I'm using and I love it). There seem to exist different variants: With and without dead keys.

Without dead keys, everything is normal, except you get lots of accented letters with AltGr, e.g., AltGr + s is ß, AltGr + p is ö, AltGr + q is ä and AltGr + y is ü.

With dead keys the layout becomes more powerful since it allows you to combine diacritics with different letters, e.g., the key that creates a " is a dead key and allows you to put dots over lots of letters: äëüïÿẍ. Same for accents ', ^, ~ and `: áàâã. The downside is that for quotes you need to type an extra space and the occasional bug in applications and desktops.

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Sounds good. The default German keyboard layout also has dead keys for accents. – OregonGhost May 31 '11 at 20:53
@OregonGhost: Yep, that's true. Afair only for ` and ' and maybe ^. US layout is far superior for my line of work though, that's why I use it. US Int gives me the best of both worlds. – musiKk May 31 '11 at 20:57
I accepted the answer that is the most useful to my situation. Please do not hesitate to vote up other answers that are more useful to you. – Phira Jun 1 '11 at 11:31
One disadvantage of most US International layouts is that one does not get the proper quotation marks „“–‚‘ easily. – Debilski Jun 1 '11 at 12:28
@Debilski: To be frank, I don't think of this as much of a problem. In most cases it's 1) better not to care (like Email because of encoding issues) or 2) the application handles this (Word or OOo). But it's a valid point nonetheless. – musiKk Jun 1 '11 at 19:26

You can use a html-Inputfield in the browser and the like, enter


(s-z ligature) and after rendering it, transfer it with copy and paste. Of course it is possible to visit Wikipedia Weltmeisterschaft, navigate to Fußball, and copy/paste from there.

Das s in Frakturschrift hat leichte Ähnlichkeiten mit einem f, zumindest hat es eine starke Unterlänge. Das altdeutsche z hat Ähnlichkeit mit einem kl. g, allerdings ist die obere Form links offen. Zusammengezogen ergebaben s und z daher etwas wie das ß.

In HTML ist ü(Ü) ü (u-Umlaut), ä(Ä) ä und ö(Ö) ö.

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In my experience, the best option by far for writing German, French, Spanish and several other European languages, is to use the US International keyboard mapping in its non-standard but much more popular variant that requires AltGr (right Alt key) for dead keys. It allows you to switch easily between these languages without changing keyboard mappings, and it makes it convenient to use some of the most important keys for computing, which can be a bit cumbersome with non-US national layouts.

How to get it

  • On Linux: If I remember correctly, you usually have to choose keyboard mapping US, variant US International. The "no dead keys" variant may or may not be the default. If it isn't, you will also have to set a parameter to get it. Details of how to do this depend on your desktop environment.
  • On Windows: You can select keyboard mapping US, variant US International. Unfortunately, by default only the standard variant with dead keys is available. Fortunately the old freeware solution to this problem works without any problems even under Windows 10: Download and install keyboard variant "United States International Alternate" (file from (Here is a direct link to the file.)

How to use it

The beauty of this mapping (in contrast to standard US International) is that it behaves in almost every respect like the normal US keyboard mapping and only has additional possibilities for key combinations that the US mapping doesn't use. The only difference is that the right Alt key becomes the AltGr key. It means that if you want to use a key combination such as Alt-O in an application, you must use the left Alt key even if that's less convenient than the right one. Apart from that detail, this mapping will just stay out of your way and feel like plain US layout when you don't need its special features.

The new AltGr function is the key to the additional features. I will begin by explaining some things more relevant to other languages such as Spanish than German because that will help you understand and remember the somewhat odd placement of the German letters.

Whenever a mainstream language has something that looks like a standard ASCII character with a plain accent added to it, you get it by pressing AltGr:

  • AltGr-a = á, AltGr-A = Á
  • AltGr-e = é, AltGr-E = É
  • AltGr-i = í, AltGr-I = Í
  • AltGr-o = ó, AltGr-O = Ó
  • AltGr-u = ú, AltGr-U = Ú.

By analogy, we also have the following:

  • AltGr-d = ð, AltGr-D = Ð
  • AltGr-n = ñ, AltGr-N = Ñ.

It is not possible to accommodate all special and accented letters of major languages in this way. This is where the system of dead keys comes in. The characters `'"^~ become dead keys (aka combining keys) when you press them while holding AltGr. "Dead" in this context means that a key at first doesn't seem to do anything because it just represents an accent, not an accented letter. But when you press an eligible second character afterwards, the two get combined:

  • AltGr-' a = á, AltGr-' A = Á
  • AltGr-' e = é, AltGr-' E = É
  • AltGr-' i = í, AltGr-' I = Í
  • AltGr-' o = ó, AltGr-' O = Ó
  • AltGr-' u = ú, AltGr-' U = Ú
  • AltGr-' y = ý, AltGr-' Y = Ý.

Since ß is not an accented version of any standard letter, only the first method works. At this point you should be able to guess how to get all German letters:

  • AltGr-s = ß
  • AltGr-" a = ä, AltGr-" A = Ä
  • AltGr-" o = ö, AltGr-" O = Ö
  • AltGr-" u = ü, AltGr-" U = Ü

But typing lots of umlauts in this way is a bit inconvenient. AltGr-a for ä would be much more convenient, but unfortunately that's already taken by á. We need one more principle to solve this, which is as follows: When the combination with the most logical key is already taken, choose another nearby. E.g., the neighbours of the a key are q,w,s,z,x. We already know that AltGr-s is needed for ß. (By the way, AltGr-S = §, an important symbol in German.) This leaves q,w,z,x free for accented versions of a, and three are actually used that way:

  • AltGr-q = ä, AltGr-Q = Ä
  • AltGr-w = å, AltGr-W = Å
  • AltGr-z = æ, AltGr-Z = Æ.

(As you can see, US International also supports the Nordic languages. This is also why we had ð up there. Not primarily because it was used in Middle English, but as an Icelandic letter.)

The complete list of convenient codes for the German letters is as follows:

  • AltGr-s = ß
  • AltGr-q = ä, AltGr-Q = Ä
  • AltGr-p = ö, AltGr-P = Ö
  • AltGr-y = ü, AltGr-Y = Ú

Why it is better than other keyboard mappings

US International is one keyboard mapping to rule them all, or at least to rule some of them, well, um, some of the most important ones. Seriously: In most western countries the vast majority of special letters you will encounter even if you work as a scientist or in an immigration office can be entered in a straightforward way with this mapping, without too much searching or trying. The (internationally) most frequently encountered special and accented letters are also the easiest and most convenient. Due to these advantages, the traditional Dutch keyboard layout is almost extinct now and has been replaced by US International.

For users of non-English layouts such as the German one, often some or all of []{}|\ are hard to get. This is inconvenient because for programming and similar tasks you may need them a lot. Since US International is based on the normal US mapping, it doesn't have this problem.

The only real problem with normal US International is that '"`~^ are always dead keys, even without combining them with AltGr. As a result, when you actually want the normal meanings, you have to press Space afterwards. (In some variants and for some keys even that may not work, e.g. you may get " Space = ¨.) The "no dead keys" or "alternate" variant solves this problem.

For me all of this was convincing enough that even as a German living in Germany, several years ago I switched to this mapping and never looked back. At my current workplace in Berlin as a software developer, most of my colleagues have been using this layout for years as well.

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In MS Word to make an umlaut one holds Shift, Ctrl and ; then press a, o, or u. For Szet hold Shift, Ctrl and & then s

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Unter Windows ohne die Installation von zusätzlicher Software verwendet man die direkten Codes:

ä Alt-0228
Ä Alt-0196
ö Alt-0246
Ö Alt-0214
ü Alt-0252
Ü Alt-0220
ß Alt-0223
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Ich nehme an das ist UTF-8? – user unknown Jul 22 '15 at 7:02
Das simuliert einfach den Tastendruck von 'ü' auf einem nicht-deutschen Keyboard. Mit UTF-8 hat das nichts zu tun. Dein Editor kann ein 'ü' in einer Datei im Format UTF-8 abspeichern, oder UTF-16, oder ISO-8859-1 oder Windows codepage 1252 oder als ü in einer 7-bit-ascii html-Datei. – Steffen Roller Jul 23 '15 at 15:13
@userunknown: Nein, es sind Unicode "codepoints" oder Windows-1252 Buchstaben in Dezimaldarstellung. – gnasher729 Sep 16 '15 at 23:43

Another way to switch to German keyboard layout under Linux

setxkbmap de

and back to yours:

setxkbmap [us,fr,...]

I configured a short cut for this one. This one works on every running X server (99% of Linuxes) without installing/configuring.

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Or, which is the easiest way and quite often used in Germany, too (e.g. when the font doesn't include them, or - only ß - when writing in capital letters):

  • ä = ae
  • ü = ue
  • ö = oe
  • ß = ss


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While technically true*, aka +1, this really is a relic of the past, when we had nothing but ASCII to talk outside the filter bubble. It reeks of vinyl and ticker tape, and I'm ashamed that the big ass company I work for has an employee directory which still does these mappings to the precious umlauts and esszetts :( (* However, I disagree with "quite often used in Germany") – hiergiltdiestfu Aug 6 '15 at 10:42
This has nothing to do with ASCII. The "trema" above the letters looks different in German hand-writing and is exactly the letter e in the old Kurrentschrift. Historically, Ä and AE are the same two letters arranged differently. Similarly for the ß. – Phira Sep 10 '15 at 19:35

Under Linux you can use xmodmap to change the layout.

With xkeycaps you can interactively redefine keys and generate commands for xmodmap.

I use a compose key mapped to Caps Lock, then for example ä is Composea". I do it that way, because I also want non-german letters like å or ç.

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On Mac OS X you can use:

  • Alt+S = ß
  • Alt+U then A = ä
  • Alt+U then E = ë
  • Alt+U then U = ü

(Tested on a UK layout keyboard)

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You can also press [Shift] with the A, E or U to get the uppercase variant. – Christopher May 31 '11 at 23:23
Additionally, starting with OS X 10.7 Lion, simply keeping the A, O, U, or the S key pressed activates a popup menu that lets you choose variants with diacritics, including umlauts and the Esszett. Press with Shift key for the uppercase. It works for some other languages too: ÿ î š Æ. – TehMacDawg Dec 22 '12 at 1:10
@TehMacDawg this could be a seperate answer – hiergiltdiestfu Aug 6 '15 at 10:36

Under Mac OS X you can do the following:

  1. Make sure you have the option "Show Keyboard & Character Viewer in menu bar" checked
  2. Select "Show/Hide Character Viewer" from the menu bar
  3. Select "Accented Latin" from the category list
  4. Select the desired character. (A double click on the character will insert it into the current application)
  5. You can add often used characters as your favorites.

System Preferences

Open Character Viewer

Select desired character

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Ich habe hier zwei Programme vorgestellt, die unter Windows bei der Eingabe solcher Zeichen helfen: ac'tivAid Forte und AllChars. Beide sind sehr leicht erlernbar.

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Use the Character Map (charmap) application on Microsoft Windows or the Character Palette in Mac OS X ("Zeichenpalette" in German, found when clicking the country flag on top of the screen in the system menu bar).

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Under Linux, most layouts have the letter ß on AltGr+S. The most notable exception is the German keyboard itself. Here, AltGr+S generates the letter ſ, also know as „long s“.

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And a dead key for umlauts at AltGr+[ on the UK English layout at least. – misterben May 31 '11 at 21:29

Several ways:

  1. Switch to a German keyboard layout. No, really. On Windows, you can (after having configured it) switch between layouts by pressing Shift+Alt, so you can just switch when writing the special characters. This way, you just have to memorize where these four keys are, not all the other differences between US and German layout.
  2. Use codes: ä, for example, is Alt+0228, at least on Windows. Don't know if you need other keys for other systems. Windows Character Map (charmap.exe) shows the codes for characters.
  3. Copy & Paste, as seen on the GL&U chat.
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Automatically answered in English, because I just read the English question. I guess it's valuable primarily for English-speaking people anyway. – OregonGhost May 31 '11 at 18:37
For me, that's perfectly fine. If someone wants a translation, they should ask, then I'd translate. – Phira May 31 '11 at 18:38
Minor nitpick: It's actually not Shift+Alt but rather Alt+Shift: first press and hold Alt, then press Shift once, then release Alt. The other way round doesn't work. – Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jun 17 '11 at 11:58
@torbengb: Didn't know that. Anyway just press them at the same time :D Of course, you can also click onto the language toolbar (Sprachenleiste). – OregonGhost Jun 17 '11 at 14:01
Both ways work for me... – Martin - マーチン Jul 21 '15 at 11:14

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