Fix your Mac’s accent menu not working

FontBookIconXThe accent menu in OS X is a small contextual menu reminiscent of that for iOS, where when you type a character that has optional accent characters you can access them quickly without needing to use separate character panels, key combinations, or keyboard layouts. To do this, Apple removed the classic rapid sequential character entry for alphanumeric keys, so pressing and holding these will bring up the contextual menu, if applicable. However, there are a couple of situations where this menu will not display, and the fix is relatively simple.

Accent Menu in OS X

The accent menu can be opened by pressing and holding a character that supports multiple options.

The contextual menu relies on the system directly interacting with your keyboard, with no extra layers of interpretation; however, this may conflict with the features of some third-party programs, and especially security software. To prevent any unwanted key-logging malware from working, some third-party security software may enable a “Secure Keyboard Entry” feature where keyboard entry is encrypted or otherwise scrambled. This will bypass Apple’s detection of keypresses, and may interfere with the accent menu as well as other functions that depend on keypress timing and key combinations (including Apple’s Dictation feature). To fix this, you have two options:

  1. Disable Secure Keyboard Entry
  2. Update or uninstall your security software

You may need to consult your software’s developer and support pages for how to disable Secure Keyboard Entry features. If you are concerned about malware recording your keypresses, provided you only install software from reputable sources (ie, the Mac App Store) and otherwise use basic computing street smarts (not letting others use your system, avoiding spam links and deals, web-based software update messages, and underground Web sites), then the need for key-logging protection should be relatively minimal.

A second possibility is that you simply have the accent menu disabled by way of a custom Terminal command. There are many hidden settings in OS X that you can use to customize behaviors or revert changes Apple has made in an OS update, and for the accent menu the following Terminal command (followed by restarting your Mac) will disable it:

defaults write -g ApplePressAndHoldEnabled -bool false

There are a number of third-party OS-tweaking tools that may support this command and thereby disable the accent menu, so even if you do not remember having made this change, it might have been invoked. This may be true if you played with this setting in a prior version of OS X and then upgraded your OS without remembering the changes you made. To check whether or not the command is in place, open the OS X Terminal and run the following command:

defaults read -g ApplePressAndHoldEnabled
Accent Menu Terminal commands in OS X

In checking this system, you can see the default pair “does not exist,” meaning the accent menu should be working on this Mac.

If the output of the Terminal says “0” or “False,” then this means you have disabled the accent menu and will need to re-enable it, which can be done by running this version of the command (the same one as above, only with “true” as the value to turn the feature on):

defaults write -g ApplePressAndHoldEnabled -bool true

Optionally you can simply delete the setting customization with the following command, which will have OS X use the default value for this feature (ie, True):

defaults delete -g ApplePressAndHoldEnabled

After running these commands, you will need to log out of your account and log back in for the changes to take effect.

7 thoughts on “Fix your Mac’s accent menu not working

  1. HaX

    Here you go:

    How to type accents, emoji, and symbols on your Mac

  2. Jonathan M. Chuzi

    Great tip. Unfortunately, neither fix works for Entourage 2008, although it does for Word 2008. I tried defaults read -g ApplePressAndHoldEnabled after applying defaults write -g ApplePressAndHoldEnabled -bool true and logging out, but that was a no go. defaults delete -g ApplePressAndHoldEnabled gave the same non-result after logging out/in. Still, I didn’t know that this existed so it will be useful in other apps than Entourage 2008.

  3. B. Jefferson Le Blanc

    Thanks for the tip. The accent menu hasn’t been working on my Mac for a long time now. None of the third-party utilities I use had repeat turned on (or the accent menu turned off), but it was on anyway. Running the Terminal script to find the setting turned up nothing. Nevertheless, after using the script to delete the setting and then restarting my Mac I found that the accent menu was back. So all’s well that ends well.

  4. Ted

    This used to work for me on Yosemite 10.10.5. Just discovered that this no longer works. Issuing the terminal command for checking the status gives me “The domain/default pair of (kCFPreferencesAnyApplication, ApplePressAndHoldEnabled) does not exist”

  5. Elena

    On my brand new macbook pro 13″ early 2015, running El Capitan 10.11.5
    I’m experiencing the following problems:
    1) Accent Menu is working on everything unless the “n” key (missing the capability of “ñ” and “ń” keys)
    (usually it worked on the Italian keyboard I run until now on my old mac, without the need of any additional language/keyboard as Spanish or Portuguese and I wasn’t forced to switch between languages only to type a single character)
    2) adding other languages to the keyboard menu to try solve the problem one, let me discover another issue
    Every time I reboot the system all the keyboard minus the principal are lost.

    Has anyone run into the same problems?
    As all the other accents are working I don’t think that I had them blocked by the “Security input…” what do you think?
    Thank you

  6. avz

    Where do you actually paste
    defaults write -g ApplePressAndHoldEnabled -bool true
    on your mac? Where do you go?

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