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Maths symbols in Word (Mac)

Saturday, 03 January 2009 | 2 Comments

Some of the methods in this article do not work in Microsot Word for Mac 2011. Please see the updated post Mathematical Symbols in Word for Mac for a screencast describing the current best method (in my opinion).

Creating a maths worksheet in Microsoft Word without using the proper symbols does not present well – I’m sure you’ve seen 2 * 2 = 4 or 2 × 2 = 4 rather than 2 × 2 = 4.  My previous post, Maths symbols in Word is one of the most popular on this site.  In that post, I gave shortcuts for inserting mathematical symbols into Word – the post was specific to the Windows version of Word.  As I’ve been a Mac user for a year, it’s time to make a similar post for Mac users.

Unfortunately the Mac is not as nice as a Windows machine for inserting symbols using the keyboard (rather than the mouse) which I prefer as it’s quicker.  The multiplication symbol, for one, is not accessible by a keyboard shortcut.

Keyboard shortcuts

On the Mac, there are a few keyboard shortcuts by pressing and holding the Option/Alt key (⌥)  whilst pressing another character on the keyboard.  Or a combination of the Option/Alt key and the Shift key (⇧).

For example, the division symbol (÷) is and /.
The degree symbol (°) is and and 8.

See the download below for a cheat sheet with more shortcuts.

Word’s Object Palette

In Word 2008 for Mac (I think the previous version has this as well) open the Toolbox.  At the top there are tabs for various parts of the Toolbox.  The second one is the Object Palette (click thumbnail below for a larger view).  Then, select the copyright symbol (©) which takes you to a palette of symbols.  Clicking a symbol here will insert it into your documents.

This is the quickest way I can find to insert a multiplication symbol without using more complex methods described below.


Have you noticed how Word automagically corrects common spelling mistakes?  That’s called AutoCorrect, and I think this might be the best way to insert commonly used symbols that don’t have a keyboard shortcut.

I’ll use the multiplication symbol as an example.  First, you will need to use the previous method to insert a multiplication symbol into a new document.  Then, copy that symbol to the clipboard.  From the Tools menu select AutoCorrect.  Make sure “Replace text as you type” is selected.  In the “Replace:” field type an uncommon phrase that will be replaced with the multiplication symbol.  I use &times, because it’s very similar to how you insert symbols in HTML (the language for writing web pages) which I am familiar with.  In the “With:” field paste the multiplication symbol you copied earlier (i.e. click in the field and press Command ⌘ and v at the same time).  Press the Add button and then the OK button.  Click the thumbnail below for a screenshot.

Now when you type &times into a Word document it will automatically be replaced with ×.

Character Palette

The Character Palette is a Mac OS X tool for inserting symbols into any application.  I’ll leave it to Apple’s help page to explain this method:
Typing special characters and symbols


Even more complex than the previous method, use the symbol’s Unicode code!  To do this, you will need to setup as per the previous method – which means there should be a flag at the top-right of your screen on the menu bar.  You then need to go to System Preferences from the Apple menu, select International and then the Input Menu tab.  There’s a long list of input methods/languages here, you need to look for “Unicode Hex Input” and select it. [source]

Now, to insert say the multiplication symbol, from the flag menu select “Unicode Hex Input”, now hold down the Option/Alt key (⌥) and type the Unicode hex code for × which is 00D7.  These codes are not ones you are likely to remember.  In my previous article, there’s a cheat sheet.  Have a look in that file for a column “Type then Alt+x” – the codes in that column are Unicode.  There are lots of charts on the official Unicode site.


I hope that these methods might make your documents or presentations a little nicer looking and their creation a little quicker.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License (?).

Posted in • PrintableSoftwareWordTechnologyApple Mac | Short URL:


Gravatar for TomasTomas on  10 January 09  at  06:27 PM #
Not sure if knew about using command+alt+t to show the Character Palette in OS X? It works on my MacBook, but not sure if it will do the same on all Macs. It doesn't solve much, but at least it saves you the trouble of finding the Character Palette through menus. smile Also, by going to "Insert" > "Symbol...", you can select a symbol of your choice and assign a keyboard shortcut to it. Anyway, hope this helps! smile
Gravatar for SimonSimon on  10 January 09  at  08:07 PM #
Tomas, Thanks for both those tips. I didn't know the first one, and for some reason didn't think of Insert > Symbols. Thanks!

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Simon Job — eleventh year of teaching maths in a public high school in Western Sydney, Australia.
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