For a long time, I lived in ignorance of the compose key. When I lived in my cloistered little world as a RISC OS user, I was quite happy with things; we had the ISO-8859-1 character set, and nifty Alt-key combinations to get the interesting characters when they were necessary, although half the time I'd memorise the character code and enter that instead.

Then I was forced to use DOS at school. My umlauts and acutes turned into big nasty graphics blobs. And I suddenly got nervous of any character that needed more than the strict ASCII 7-bits. So when I was exposed to UNIX for the first time, I stayed well clear of that compose key.

Now, things seem to have got better, what with HTML and specified language encodings, so once again, it seems safe to reach for the multiple-key combinations. Particularly here on E2, where the character set is strictly defined as ISO 8859 (the HTTP headers say so. As it is written, so shall it be).

These character pairs given here are as defined in the XFree86 mappings for ISO-8859-1, which is the set used in most European countries, and America, Australia etc. There shouldn't be much variation between systems. Generally there's more than one way to get the same character, and usually the character pairs can be entered either way round.

A point it's probably important to impress is that the compose key is used by pressing it and releasing before the other two characters. It is not like Shift or Ctrl, it's more like Esc.


Accents are pretty simple, and are composed of the character to be accented, and a fairly close approximation of the accent to be applied:

Not all combinations are available in ISO 8859; where the acute, grave, circumflex and umlaut are available for all vowels (and also umlaut and acutes on 'y'), the ring is only avaible for A (making the Angstrom symbol...), cedilla only on it's own or on 'c', and the tilde only has meaning on 'a', 'o' and 'n'. Upper and lower case are both available.

Examples (not that you need them, of course...)

  • 'e (Compose ' e): é
  • E` (Compose E `): È
  • C, (Compose C ,): Ç
  • *A (Compose * A): Å


  • !!: ¡
  • ??: ¿
  • <<: «
  • >>: »
  • ^.: · (or ..)
  • p!: ¶
  • so: §
  • (space space): non-breaking space
  • --:

Currency, Numbers.

  • xo: ¤
  • /c: ¢ (also |c, c/ and c|, and in capital form)
  • l-: £ (also capital L, reversed order, and l=)
  • y=: ¥ (also capital, reversed etc.)
  • ^1: ¹
  • ^2: ²
  • ^3: ³
  • 14: ¼
  • 12: ½
  • 34: ¾

Also, ISO-8859-15 defines the Euro currency symbol, obtained by C=.


  • co: ©
  • a_: ª
  • o_: º
  • o^: ô
  • +-: ±
  • /u: µ
  • ||: ¦
  • -,: ¬
  • RO: ®
  • ^-: ¯ (also __)
  • :-: ÷
  • xx: ×
  • '': ´
  • ,,: ¸
  • "": ¨
  • AE: Æ
  • ae: æ
  • D-: Ð
  • d-: ð
  • ss: ß
  • TH: Þ
  • th: þ