I write mathematical computer code.

I frequently need Greek letters such as ø

My current workflow is terrible: hold down OPT and run my finger across the three rows of the keyboard:


... And see if I can find what I'm hunting for.

Failing that, typing 'alpha Unicode' into Google hope for some symbol I can copy and paste.

I discovered that in system settings -> keyboard -> keyboard, I can "show keyboard and character viewers in menubar".

The character viewer looks like it will come to the rescue, but ... no Greek symbols! ARGH!

What can I do?


7 Answers 7


In the top left-hand corner of the Character Viewer, there’s a gear icon. The first option is “Customise List…”.

This gives you a selectable list of all the character sets available in the sidebar. If you scroll down, you’ll find Greek as one of the options:

enter image description here

I don’t have a Mavericks machine to hand to check, but I’m fairly sure this feature existed before Yosemite.

  • 1
    Thanks, strangely this was greyed-out. But works nevertheless -- thanks!
    – P i
    Apr 17, 2015 at 11:57
  • Not sure whether it's just a design decision, but all that top section is in a light grey palette until you click in Search, then it all switches to black on grey
    – Tetsujin
    Apr 17, 2015 at 12:16
  • I confirm you that your answer is correct on Mountain Lion and Mavericks.
    – dan
    Apr 17, 2015 at 13:41
  • 1
    The only thing I would add is that on Sierra I had to switch between the basic and advanced Character Viewer (button in the top-right corner) in order to bring up the menu.
    – Azeari
    Apr 13, 2017 at 16:23
  • Throwing this out there too since I couldn't figure out how to open Character Viewer (as of OSX 14.4): You won't find it with Cmd + Space. Do Ctrl + Cmd + Space. If that opens the character viewer, you're all set. If it just opens the emoji thing, there is a tiny icon in the top right that looks like a finder winder. Click that and the emoji picker thing morphs into the Character Viewer. And it will open the Character Viewer from now on unless you toggle back to the emoji picker.
    – James
    Mar 9 at 20:53

Here's the neatest trick I've found for easily getting the Greek letters when I need them. In System Preferences -> Keyboard -> Shortcuts I have Select the previous input source mapped to cmd-space:

enter image description here

and then in Input Sources I have my standard keyboard and the Greek keyboard:

enter image description here

Now whenever I hit cmd-space my keyboard switches over to Γρεεκ (or vice-versa):

enter image description here

The Greek letters map to the English letters in a much more rational way than what you get with holding option and hunting/pecking. The one caveat is that cmd-space is natively mapped as a shortcut for something else, but considering that I can't even remember what that something else is it wasn't very important.


For completeness, it turns out that cmd-space is normally a shortcut that brings up a Spotlight search bar.

  • Worked perfectly!
    – wogsland
    Sep 16, 2017 at 10:31
  • This hack is genius.
    – Paradox
    Jul 29, 2019 at 5:49
  • 1
    You can now set it up so pressing-and-holding Caps Lock switches to a specified input source.
    – afeique
    Apr 27, 2020 at 20:53

An alternative - if you know the symbol is in the Opt keys somewhere but just cant remember

Show Keyboard Viewer, then if you hold Opt it will show you the alternatives. You can either complete from the keyboard or click with the mouse to insert at the current carat

enter image description here

  • You can use the Grab utility to make screenshots there. But very few real greek characters are available via opt in any case. Apr 17, 2015 at 13:01
  • 1
    @TomGewecke I never thought of firing it up as an app. Cool.
    – Tetsujin
    Apr 17, 2015 at 13:30

Tested on OSX 10.15+
View steps on imgur

First, add the input source

  1. Navigate to System Preferences > Keyboard:

    System Preferences

  2. Under the Input Sources tab, hit the "+" to add a new source:

    Add Input Source

  3. Add the desired input source, in this case, Greek:

    Desired Input Source

Next, setup shortcuts for switching

  • For the most commonly used alternative input source, it's convenient to allow switching by pressing and holding Caps Lock:

    Press and Hold Caps Lock

  • Under Keyboard > Shortcuts, the system has a default shortcut of ^Space (Ctrl-Space):

    ^Space Shortcut

  • If you keep holding Ctrl after pressing ^Space, you will get the input source selection menu:

    Input Source Selection


One particular alternative: if you're using the text editor vim, then you can enter almost any Unicode character by using its digraphs feature.

For example, a lower-case alpha (α) is CtrlK, a, *; and a capital lambda (Λ) is CtrlK, L, *.  You can run :digraphs to see the full list.

And of course you can then select, copy, and paste them from vim into other apps.  (That's probably not the most efficient approach; but if you use vim it's worth knowing about.)


There is also https://software.sil.org/ukelele/ which is a

[…] Unicode Keyboard Layout Editor for the macOS

Screenshot from their website: enter image description here

As the problem owner does not want to write greek proze, but wants to use (greek) symbols to express math in a programming language, he could try use Ukele to modify/augment/re-map his current US keyboard with extra math symbols, so he does not need to change language every time he switches from math-mode to Python or Julia or whatever. This also allows for mapping other math symbols, like ∂ ∜ or ≨, symbols that the Greek community have not added to their alphabet.


υσε υνιγoδειτ.νετ via unicodeit.net Online Demo

It can also be downloaded and installed on a Mac, and put into a Service so it is easily accessible within Keynote and Pages.

This tool permits to enter greek letters, but also any mathematical, chimical or physical notation.

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