Alternate Characters on Keyboard

Every once in a while I accidentally hit the right key when using Word and it switches to the alternate characters. I don’t know how it happens, so I just start hitting keys until it switches back. What key switches it and do I use the same key to switch back?

Submitted by Lori from Alberta, Canada

ANSWER: One of several possible scenarios is occurring. Click the link that best matches your problem:

Weird characters show on the screen

You may have activated the Show/Hide Formatting Marks feature in Microsoft Word by accidentally pressing the keyboard shortcut while you were typing.

This often startles new users because weird characters suddenly show up in the document and the layout appears to be broken. Don’t worry. The characters don’t print so they will not not ruin your layout.

Show/Hide formatting marks button
The Show/Hide formatting marks button on the Home tab

The keyboard shortcut to Show/Hide formatting marks is Ctrl+*. This is a toggle, so if you want to hide the marks, press the keyboard shortcut again.

If you don’t like using keyboard shortcuts, in Word 2007-2013, Show/Hide is located on the Home tab in the Paragraph group. (In previous versions of Microsoft Word, Show/Hide is located on the Standard toolbar.)

Tip: If you have problems with your layout (“I can’t make Word do what I want it to do!”), show the formatting marks. You can often find stray spaces, line breaks, carriage returns, and tabs that you didn’t know were there. Once you see them, it is easy to delete the extra characters and clean up your document.

Keyboard suddenly types in a different language

If Microsoft Windows International Support is installed on your system, you can accidentally change the language settings by typing the keyboard shortcut, left Alt + Shift or right Alt + Shift.

This is a toggle switch, so press the keyboard shortcut again to switch back to your default language settings.

For more about this topic, see Add or Change an Input Language from

The Alt, Ctrl, or Shift key seems to be locked

If the Alt, Ctrl, or Shift keys seem like they are locked, you may have activated the Windows Accessibility option called Sticky Keys. For an explanation and the fix, please see Held Down Right Shift too Long?

Have you had any weird symbols show up in your document? How did you fix it? Add your comments below.