Configuring Your Mac to Enter Greek Text

[This tutorial assume that you are using Mac OS X 10.6, Snow Leopard; older versions are slightly different, though I think 10.5 is the same.]

The next task, after downloading and installing the Gentium font, is to configure your Mac so that you can easily type Greek characters instead of English ones. All the necessary pieces are already included in Mac OS X, but they are not configured or turned on by default. For English speakers, especially those working in biblical studies, we can supplement the standard Mac system to make it even easier. To do so, follow these steps.

1. Download a polytonic Greek key layout

Though Mac includes one of these, it follows the layout of the modern Greek keyboard which is not at all intuitive to English speakers. As a replacement, I’ve written a key layout that follows the Beta Code transliteration that is widely used and which is the same format as used by the Classical Greek keyboard for Keyman–that makes it easier for those of us who work back and forth between more than one OS.

First, download the two small files in this zipped file:

  • Greek KoineRD (the keylayout file)
  • The separate icon file
  • Click the zipped file link just above to download and save zip file containing the two files like you did the Gentium font on the previous page. After it downloads, double click the zip file to expand it. The actual file names are “Greek KoineRD.keylayout” and “Greek KoineRD.icns”.

2. Install the two files in the Main Library

  • Drag the two files that you downloaded from the Download folder (or wherever you saved them) into the Keyboard Layouts folder in the main Library folder. If you hold down the Option key when you drag them, they will be copied instead of moved. That will leave the original copy as a backup.
  • Log out and back in (or Restart your computer) to activate these new keyboard files.

3. Configure your Mac to use the new files

  • First open the System Preferences window.

  • In the top section of the System Preferences window, click the Language & Text icon.

  • In the Language & Text window, click the Input Sources tab.
  • Scroll down the list of langauges on the left until you find “Greek Koine RD.” Click the box on the lext to activate this keyboard.

  • Be sure that the option box “Show Input menu in menu bar” (lower right of the window)  is checked.
  • In the upper right check to see if the “Input source shortcuts” are configured as shown above. If they are not, you can either use the defaults already listed, or click the “Keyboard Shortcuts” button to change them to match what’s shown here. (Instructions below will assume what is shown above; if you want to use some thing different, remember your choice and substitute it as necessary below.)
  • When you are finished, close the window.

4. Learn to use the new keyboard

If you have done everything correctly, you will see an American flag toward the right end of the menu bar. (It may have been there before, or it may be new. If you are using a system localized for another language, the flag may be different.) This shows you what language will be typed when you enter text on the keyboard.

You can use either the mouse (or trackpad) or the keyboard shortcut to toggle between two (or more) languages.

If you use the mouse instead of the keyboard shortcut, click the flag icon and you will see the following menu:

To switch to Greek entry, select “Greek Koine RD.” (You may have other languages listed; my setup shown here also has a Hebrew keyboard installed in addition to the default “U.S.” (for American English).

To return to English, press the keyboard shortcut again (Command-Spacebar) or select “U.S.” with the mouse.

Whenever the Greek keyboard is selected, you will see a large “Gr” (for Greek) in place of the American flag.

What letters are where?

You can find more detail and a complete users manual on another page. (The install instructions there assume an older version of Mac OS X; the notes given on this page assume OS X 10.6, Snow Leopard; I think they are the same for 10.5, Leopard.)

The basics are these:

The TLG beta code transliteration for alphabetic characters has been followed:


a b g d e z h q I k l m n c o p r s t u f x y w

produces the Greek alphabet:

α β γ δ ε ζ η θ ι κ λ μ ν ξ ο π ρ σ τ υ φ χ ψ ω

Diacritics are entered as follows. Before typing, e.g., a vowel with a breathing mark, first type the dead key for the diacritic, then type the vowel. The dead keys which overstrike the next character (where appropriate) are as follows:

Acute                           /

Grave                           \

Circumflex                   =

Smooth breathing       ]

Rough breathing         [

Iota subscript              |

As soon as you type the following vowel, the OS will change the character entered to the correctly accented vowel.

Note that the shape of many of these is very mnemonic:  the forward and back slash mimic the slope of the acute and grave accents, and the square brackets face the same direction as the corresponding breathing mark, etc.

All of these diacritics “stack” (if appropriate) and they can be typed in any order.

When a dead key is typed before an inappropriate letter (e.g., a consonant), either the diacritic itself will appear in front of the consonant or in some cases (esp. with compound diacritics involving an iota subscript), nothing will appear. Diacritics are not entered alone in Greek text, but typing the dead key followed by a space will often generate that character in this keyboard layout. This is primarily for didactic purposes since when teaching Greek (as I do) it is often desirable to be able to represent the diacritic by itself in classroom materials.

Only one common character uses the Mac option key: a final sigma [ς] is entered with option-s.

Most applications will automatically substitute a font with polytonic Greek characters is you are not using an appropriate font when you begin typing Greek. Normally, however, you will want to specify the font first. The Gentium font is a nice font and the easiest way to handle it (if you are using MS Word or another program that allows you to define styles) is to define Gentium as the normal font and do all your writing in Gentium. That way you do not have to change fonts when you switch to Greek and the two font faces (English and Greek) will look good together. (A word to the wise [and to the foolish!]: Typing a paper in Times Roman with Lucida Grande for Greek looks really ugly!)