Hardware

What does the AltGr key actually do?

Let’s talk about the elephant in the keyboard: the AltGr key. The chances are that you’ve never had to press Alt’s mysterious brother and have no idea what it does. Luckily, we do, so it’s time to blow away the dust and get pressing.

The AltGr, or Alternate Graphic, key is a relic from the days of text-based user interfaces (TUIs), where it was used to create box-drawing characters such as┎ and ┰. Nowadays, it functions in a similar way to Shift: when held down with another key, it provides a character that isn’t shown on the keyboard.

Below is a list of AltGr combos that can be used almost everywhere: in emails, web browsers and most word processing software. Note that these are achieved using a standard UK and Ireland keyboard with Windows 10 – the US-International version is, helpfully, completely different.

AltGr + 4 = €

AltGr + E = é and É

AltGr + U = ú and Ú

AltGr + I = í and Í

AltGr + O = ó and Ó

AltGr + A = á and Á

AltGr + `/¬ (the key to the left of 1 on the top row) = ¦

(That last symbol is a “broken bar”, a symbol once used in computing, but which now has hardly any practical uses.)

You’d be forgiven for being a little miffed if that’s all AltGr could do. After all, it wastes valuable keyboard space that could, for example, be used for a button that boils the kettle. But, once you open up Microsoft Word, AltGr gains 20 extra functions, many of which are actually quite useful.

AltGr + R = ® (registered trademark)

AltGr + T = ™ (trademark)

AltGr + Y = Move the cursor to the beginning of the text

AltGr + 1, 2 or 3 = Turns the line to a heading

AltGr + S = Toggles split-screen mode

AltGr + D = Creates a lettered footnote (i)

AltGr + F = Creates a numbered footnote

AltGr + H = Toggles the highlighter function

AltGr + K = Reduces the line spacing

AltGr + L = Begins a numbered list

AltGr + # = \

AltGr + C = © (copyright)

AltGr + V = Paste special

AltGr + N = Toggles the Web Layout view

AltGr + M = Opens a comment

AltGr + . = …

And on the right-hand number pad:

AltGr + – = — (an em dash, as opposed to the slightly shorter en dash (–), which is made by pressing Alt + -)

AltGr + Enter = Indent

AltGr + + = Opens keyboard customisation

If you were a prankster in dull IT lessons at school, or really know your way around a keyboard, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve missed off AltGr’s most entertainingly useless function: AltGr + the arrow keys. Be warned, though: this will turn your world upside down.

Also read, What can the Tab key do other than the obvious?

About the author

Max Figgett

Max has written for numerous websites and magazines over the years. Whether it’s about ancient hardware or software secrets, no Big Tech Question is too obscure for him to tackle.

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  • And I’ve been using the charctermap tool to get the copyright symbol for years. All those seconds lost for no good reason.

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