Accents on US keyboards

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I have an American keyboard but I often have to write in French, Italian, and German (in this order). Xmodmap is a utility which comes with Xorg and which is extremely flexible, to the point that you can completely remap you keyboard. I have remapped mine so that

Note: AltGr is the Alt key on the right-hand side of the space bar.

AltGr + e -> é
AltGr + r -> è
AltGr + a -> à
AltGr + u -> ù
AltGr + i -> ì
AltGr + o -> ò
AltGr + c -> ç
AltGr + [ -> «
AltGr + ] -> »
AltGr + ; -> dead diaresis (ï, ü, etc.)

The only difficulty is to have a good xmodmap file (see below).

A useful utility to produce xmodmap file

On this page you'll find XKeyCaps, a graphical front-end to xmodmap which is useful to produce an xmodmap file suiting your needs.

Example xmodmap file

Here's the xmodmap file I use, where keys are mapped as indicated above:

clear Mod1
clear Mod2
!  us.map with a few redefinitions
keycode   9 = Escape Escape
keycode  10 = 1 exclam
keycode  11 = 2 at at
keycode  12 = 3 numbersign
keycode  13 = 4 dollar dollar
keycode  14 = 5 percent currency
keycode  15 = 6 asciicircum dead_circumflex
keycode  16 = 7 ampersand braceleft
keycode  17 = 8 asterisk bracketleft
keycode  18 = 9 parenleft bracketright
keycode  19 = 0 parenright braceright
keycode  20 = minus underscore backslash
keycode  21 = equal plus
keycode  22 = BackSpace Delete
keycode  23 = Tab Tab
keycode  24 = q
keycode  25 = w
keycode  26 = e E eacute
keycode  27 = r R egrave
keycode  28 = t
keycode  29 = y
keycode  30 = u U ugrave
keycode  31 = i I igrave
keycode  32 = o O ograve
keycode  33 = p
keycode  34 = bracketleft braceleft guillemotleft
keycode  35 = bracketright braceright guillemotright
keycode  36 = Return
keycode  37 = Control_L
keycode  38 = a A agrave
keycode  39 = s
keycode  40 = d
keycode  41 = f
keycode  42 = g
keycode  43 = h
keycode  44 = j
keycode  45 = k
keycode  46 = l
keycode  47 = semicolon colon dead_diaeresis
keycode  48 = apostrophe quotedbl
keycode  49 = grave asciitilde dead_grave
keycode  50 = Shift_L
keycode  51 = backslash bar
keycode  52 = z
keycode  53 = x
keycode  54 = c C ccedilla
keycode  55 = v
keycode  56 = b
keycode  57 = n
keycode  58 = m
keycode  59 = comma less apostrophe
keycode  60 = period greater quotedbl
keycode  61 = slash question
keycode  62 = Shift_R
keycode  63 = KP_Multiply
keycode  64 = Alt_L Meta_L
keycode  65 = space space
keycode  66 = Caps_Lock
keycode  67 = F1 F11
keycode  68 = F2 F12
keycode  69 = F3 F13
keycode  70 = F4 F14
keycode  71 = F5 F15
keycode  72 = F6 F16
keycode  73 = F7 F17
keycode  74 = F8 F18
keycode  75 = F9 F19
keycode  76 = F10 F20
keycode  77 = Num_Lock
keycode  78 = Scroll_Lock
keycode  79 = KP_7
keycode  80 = KP_8
keycode  81 = KP_9
keycode  82 = KP_Subtract
keycode  83 = KP_4
keycode  84 = KP_5
keycode  85 = KP_6
keycode  86 = KP_Add
keycode  87 = KP_1
keycode  88 = KP_2
keycode  89 = KP_3
keycode  90 = KP_0
keycode  94 = less greater bar
keycode  95 = F11 F11
keycode  96 = F12 F12
keycode 108 = KP_Enter
keycode 109 = Control_R
keycode 112 = KP_Divide
keycode 113 = Mode_switch
keycode 114 = Break
keycode 110 = Find
keycode  98 = Up
keycode  99 = Prior
keycode 100 = Left
keycode 102 = Right
keycode 115 = Select
keycode 104 = Down
keycode 105 = Next
keycode 106 = Insert
keycode 116 = Mode_switch
! right windows-menu key, redefined as Compose key
keycode 117 = Multi_key
add Mod1 = Alt_L
add Mod2 = Mode_switc

What to do with the xmodmap file

If you want to do use the file posted above, put it in a hidden file called xmodmaprc in your home directory:

~/.xmodmaprc

Some desktop environments, for instance Gnome, will automatically detect the file and ask you if you want to use it. If you're using a desktop environment or a window manager which does not do this, you'll have to add a line to an executable file called .xinitrc, located in your home directory. This file contains a list of commands that are executed after you log in.

If you already have a .xinitrc file, type these commands in a terminal:

cd
echo "xmodmap ~/.xmodmaprc" >> .xinitrc

If you don't have a .xinitrc file, do this:

cd
echo "xmodmap ~/.xmodmaprc" > .xinitrc
chmod 755 .xinitrc