Typing Greek Letters on the Mac

I asked a question on the wonderful Mac site Macintouch about multiple keyboards and multiple input languages. Basically, I want to be able to easily switch between typing Greek and English. There were some excellent responses, one in particular which had a link which led me to a little Googling, and man, are there some great resources out there.

A nice thing about Macs is they are Unicode-ready (Windows probably is now, too, but I’m not as familiar with it). Unicode is a “format” which allows for a huge number of possible “letters”; far more than we normally use. But in order to type these characters on a regular keyboard, you need key combinations; like hitting shift-4 to get a dollar sign.

Well, here’s my “something back” to the vast I-want-to-type-Greek-on-my-Mac community.

Setting up your Mac

Go to the Apple Menu > System Preferences > International > Input Menu and check the checkbox for “Greek Polytonic”. For me, that gives me two active Keyboard Layouts “U.S” and “Greek Polytonic”.

Then under “Input Menu Shortcuts,” set a Keyboard Shortcut for “Select next input source from menu”. You will use this shortcut to switch between the two layouts. I use option-space.

Also, choose “Allow a different input source for each document” under “Input source options.” This is really nice; it does just what it says.

Last, check “Show input menu in menu bar.” It is convenient to know what keyboard you’re in. This will show you a little flag in your menu bar.

Get a Good Font

Macs and PCs ship will a few fonts built in. Old-timers Times and Arial are among them. Recent versions are aware of Unicode and have a lot, but not all, of the special characters. There are some other free Greek fonts around. I like Gentium. Download and install by double-clicking the font and choosing install, or by opening Font Book and choosing the Gentium folder.

Print My Cheat Sheet

To type Greek characters, you’ll need to use special key combinations. It will be a while before you have them memorized, so Mac users please feel free to download my little cheat sheet here.

Take Her for a Spin

Now, it goes like this:

1. option-space
2. start typing καί θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος
3. option-space to get back to your normal keyboard
4. send me great piles of money

That’s it! I hope that helps someone get started quickly. If you see any errors or something that it would be useful to add, please let me know in the comments.

23 thoughts on “Typing Greek Letters on the Mac”

  1. Oh dude, you rock. You rock a lot. I’ve been workin on a project for a Greek event on my campus. Greek sing. Every other letter I could just pluck from a site and insert it into my motion projects. Except for SIGMA for some reason. I’d copy it. paste it, it’d be in the inspector box, but never show up. Thank you. I’m a college kid, so I can’t send you money, and its almost two years since you posted it, but thank you.

  2. Thank you very much for this post. You just to bring to an end a mild panic attack I was having. See, about an hour ago, I popped all of the keys off of my Mac keyboard in order to clean several years worth of gunk and grime out of there. But, when I put them back on and tested out the keys to make sure they worked, all of the text I typed came out in strange symbols. It took me a minute (and several futile minutes spent googling terms like “mac keyboard troubleshooting” and looking at the Apple online store to see how much a new keyboard costs) to realize that it was Greek lettering. My next search, “mac keyboard greek letters” brought me here and I was able to correct the problem. So, again, thank you for this post. It was immensely helpful, though perhaps not for the reasons you intended.

  3. Ιn Gramerican: Τηατ ςασ σο αςεσομε τηανκσ! νος Ι ψαν ψομμθνιψατε ςιτη μυ γρεεκ ρελατιωεσ ςιτηοθτ νεεδινγ μυ μομ το τρανσλατε!!!!

  4. Thanks for this. Really not difficult to do.
    But have not worked out how to type letters with accents yet.
    (haven’t downloaded additional fonts yet).

  5. man, you are awesome!
    i wonder how could the correct σ show up as ς in the last letter of a word.
    that just didn’t work out…. if you can help me out with this, that would be great!

  6. Ok, for those of you that are NEW Mac users, the above does NOT exactly work with Mountain Lion.
    You have to do this.
    1. System Prefs
    2. Under “Personal” go to “Language and Text”
    3. Hit “Input Sources” tab
    4. Select “Greek Polytonic” in the Left hand List
    5. Leave the selected “Use the same on in all documents” Under “Input Source Options”
    6. Click “Keyboard Shortcuts (which is on the right side of “input sources”)
    7. Select (if they are NOT already selected) the LAST 2 Boxes (7a, 7b)
    7a. “Select the previous input source” and
    7b. “Select the next source in input menu”
    8. It will show 2 yellow Flag markers. Don’t worry, it’s just telling you a major change to your keyboard has happened (when you want it to… I’ll now explain how to control the switching between English and Greek)
    9. Now you can exit the system prefs box.
    10. using the commands “Option, Command, and TAP Space” will toggle (cycle thru) between US and GREEK. As you tap SPACE while holding down OPT and COMM, you will see in the upper right hand corner of your screen the US flag and GREECE’S flag will appear.
    11. Holding down Command and tapping Space will do the same, but give you a little window to see the toggle.

    Yes, this was explained in a Barney style, but that’s because I need things explained to me in this way.
    Again, this is only for those who are using Mountain Lion. BTW, I am using OpenOffice Writer.

  7. Just updated office with mathtype and it blew my symbol font out of the water. This was an amazing fix that did not require any work around with the font issue. Thanks for a straightforward solution and really simple instructions. V.

  8. Heehee, looking at all the people putting η for h and not using θ and mixing up ς and σ , and ο and ω. διδασκομαι ἐλληνικά ὅτι ἐχω ἐγαπην εἰς αὐτα

  9. I tried for two hours using Apple’s misnamed HELP to do what took me a couple of minutes using your instructions. A well deserved Aussie “Thanks Mate”, or, if you prefer, “Thanks Cobber” to you.

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