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Here is a (US English layout) computer keyboard.

~/:/"/</>/? marked on a 104-key US Windows keyboard

There are six keys which are dotted red in the upper right corner. I want to know what to call them in English.

I want to know the names for each of the six keys, not for the characters. There are two symbols or punctuation marks on each key, so would I refer to them together? Can we say press the key which contains two punctuation marks: double quotes and full colon?

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Are you asking if there is one word for all of those keys, or are you asking for the names of each one of those keys? – ColleenV Mar 16 at 12:40
one word for one key ,not to tell me the names of each one on those keys,for all the six keys ,there are two symbols or punctuations on every key,how to call them together? – it_is_a_literature Mar 16 at 13:00
I'll have to think about that - usually we refer to the symbol we want to be typed not the key itself. So I might say press tilde, but I wouldn't say press the tilde-backtick key. – ColleenV Mar 16 at 13:18
For what purpose will you use the names? Will it be in speech, in writing, or both? To an average person or to a technical expert? If you can tell us why you are asking, we might be able to help you better. – Jim Reynolds Mar 16 at 13:49
Should note that these keys are mapped differently in other countries - sometimes with additional letters used in that country. As for those that remains as punctuation and other symbols - both the shifted and unshifted - are moved around, it's best to just which symbol should be used and leave it up to the user to find it. For example on a Norwegian keyboard, "," and "." is not paired with "<" and ">", but with ";" and ":" - while "<" and ">" is on their own key (left of "Z"). A collection of samples can be found on: starr.net/is/type/keyboard-charts.html – Baard Kopperud Mar 16 at 16:08
up vote 30 down vote accepted

Your indicated keys, plus the three above and to the right of your indicated keys and the shifted version of the top row all generate "punctuation" characters. Keyboard keys are generally referred to by the default character they represent (rather than any shifted alternatives).

The ones you've specifically marked are...

; is the Semi-Colon Key

' is the Quote Key

, is the Comma Key

. is the Period Key

/ is generally called the Slash Key, but the more accurate name is front slash or forward slash to differentiate it from backslash \. This is particularly relevant when dealing with computers. In many cases, they are not interchangeable - URLs to web pages use front slash, while path names in Windows use backslash.

The first one on your list is one of the oddball exceptions1, because it's not commonly used in English. People with more exposure to languages where tilde is used will call it that, while people with more exposure to languages that use the grave accent will call it that (or just accent). Programmers and Linux users are likely to call it backquote or backtick. Then again... many people don't know what to call it at all, so "the one in the corner with the curvy thing" and "squiggle" are disappointingly common.

It all changes for a keyboard and/or system configured for something other than en-US QWERTY. In Windows computers set up for other languages (plus Macs set for just about any language and some Linux configurations, too), many of the individual keys can generate even more characters than are shown on the keys by pressing the key in conjunction with Alt or AltGr (AltGr isn't present on most en-US keyboards).

There's a difference between talking about "typing a character" and "pressing a key". For example, you type 4 by pressing 4, while you type $ by pressing SHIFT and 4. Regardless of whether the desired character is 4 or $, you "press the 4 Key". There is no "$ Key", typing that character requires multiple keys.

1Get used to oddball exceptions; English is full of them.

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For "tilde", I've heard (and occasionally said) "squiggle". – Roger Lipscombe Mar 16 at 13:37
The grave accent ` is also known as a backtick. – Dan Henderson Mar 16 at 14:44
The / character is not technincally "front slash"; that's a back-formation people have constructed to distinguish it from backslash. Its proper name is indeed "slash" or "solidus". (I've submitted an edit to that effect, but don't have the rep to make it stick.) – Monty Harder Mar 16 at 14:56
@RogerLipscombe, I like to call the ~ a "twiddle"... in fact the top-row symbols should be "twiddle, bang, at, hash, dollar, percent, caret, ampersand, splat, left-banana, right-banana". – Hellion Mar 16 at 19:18
@MontyHarder If the question was, "What is the official name for this character according to the published Unicode standard?", I'd agree with you. But that wasn't the question. There is often a big difference between "what is the technical name for this thing according to some official standard" and "what do real people actually call it". It is not "wrong" to call my pet a "dog", even though there is a technical biological term, "canis familiaris". I sincerely doubt that even a professional biologist says to his kids, "Did you feed the canis familiaris today?" – Jay Mar 16 at 20:10

These keys generally go by the name of their unshifted character (i.e., the character on the bottom of the key). This is true of most of the keyboard: for example, we generally call the key with 1 and ! the "1 key" not the "exclamation point key". Of course, if you actually want someone to type an exclamation point, you'd tell them, "Type an exclamation point," but if you wanted them to press a button outside of a typing context (while playing a video game, for example) you'd tell them, "Press the 1 key" or simply "Press 1."

The other rule to follow here is that if the unshifted character is not widely used or does not have a well-known name, use the shifted name.

Going in left-to right order across each row:

  • (`/~) The tilde key, since the name for the unshifted "grave accent" or "backtick" character is not widely known. (This may also go by the "squiggle key" or "the key next to the 1 with the squiggle on it" for people who don't know the name for "tilde" either; neither are commonly used outside of programming.)
  • (;/:) the semicolon key, since the names for colon and semicolon are both well-known and the semicolon is the unshifted character for the key
  • ('/") The quote key, since both characters on the key are quotation marks (so there is no need to distinguish between "single quote" or "double quote" to identify the key; they are both quotes, and they are on the same key)
  • (,/<) The comma key
  • (./>) The period key
  • (//?) Likely the question mark key. The slash key or the forward slash key is also acceptable, but could cause confusion with the backslash key, so it's often easier to use question mark as the identifier instead.
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If you look at the scan code tables in the keyboard standards, the keys are referred to as their symbol pairs as you've written, so I think that's probably the best choice. – ColleenV Mar 16 at 13:26
I like the way you explained that last one. – J.R. Mar 16 at 14:54
Yes, there is a great deal of confusion with backslash. I literally yelled at the TV when Pauley Perrette (who plays the tech nerd on NCIS) told viewers to go to a website at "CBS dot com backslash..." Since viewers assume she actually knows what she's talking about, it just perpetuates a basic error: People believe that "slash" is the informal name, and "backslash" is the full, formal name. Interestingly, they don't seem to be able to give a name for "\". There are similar problems with (semi)colon. – Monty Harder Mar 16 at 15:02
Re "The tilde key, since the name for the unshifted "grave accent" or "backtick" character is not widely known.", neither is the name 'tilde'. – jamesqf Mar 16 at 21:44
@jamesqf Fair point! Edited. – apsillers Mar 16 at 21:46
  • ~ - this is called Tilde.
  • " and ' - these are called Double and Single Quotes, respectively.
  • : and ; - these are called full and semi colon, respectively.
  • ? - this is called the Question Mark.
  • / - this is called the slash.
  • < and > are called brackets (at times), but are mostly referred to as less-than and greater-than signs.
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[ and ] are brackets. < and > are angle brackets. { and } are braces or curly brackets. There is a good summary here: englishforums.com/content/resources/… – ColleenV Mar 16 at 12:49
-1 The OP did not ask the names of the symbols. – Jim Reynolds Mar 16 at 13:50
@JimReynolds "unless that is the standard or correct way to identify it", I guess the answer states the only way to identify those keys, unless you know some other way. – Joao Arruda Mar 16 at 14:28
@ColleenV sometimes, [ and ] are called braces, while { and } are called curly braces. [ and ] may also be called square brackets. – Dan Henderson Mar 16 at 14:42
@JoaoA - That may be true, but the answer should maybe have said that more explicitly, or explained it more clearly. – J.R. Mar 16 at 14:50

Names for these keys in what context?

If you are telling someone to enter a certain character into the computer, you tell him the character. Like, "type a colon" or "press the colon key". The fact that there is different symbol generated by the shifted or unshifted version of this key is usually irrelevant. Especially considering that there are different keyboard layouts in the world: the fact that, for example, colon and semi-colon are on the same physcial key on your keyboard does not necessarily mean they are on the same key on someone else's keyboard.

If you are talking about the key as a physical key, rather than as a means to generate a particular character, we normally use the unshifted value. Like, "To access the memory chip, you must first pry off the semi-colon key ..."

If you are programming a device controller, you'd probably refer to them by the name of the key code that they generate. For example, on a Windows standard US English keyboard, the "/" key (or "?" key or "/?" key or whatever you want to call it) generates a hex code BF. The programmer would then have to check the current state of the shift key to determine whether to generate a slash or a question mark.

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Can we say press the key which contains two punctuation marks: double quotes and full colon?

This is a bad idea, because the keyboard layout in different countries is different. For example on my UK English keyboard, the locations of @ and " are swapped over compared with your picture (@ is above ' and " is above 2 on the top row). In fact, every row of keys except the top one has a different number of keys from your picture! The USA has its own national standard (ANSI) standard for the physical arrangement of the keys. Most of the rest of the world (including the UK) uses the international standard (ISO) layout.

So "the key that contains ' and "" would mean nothing to me, because I don't have that key!

Use the name of the character that the user should press. For example, if you say "Press ~", I'm smart enough to figure out I need to press SHIFT and my # key. That key doesn't even exist on your keyboard, but on mine the "ASDF" row has 12 keys, not 11.

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The one term I haven't seen mentioned yet is that the keys that do NOT carry a digit or an alphabet character and that are also NOT Function keys (the F1-F12 keys, on some keyboards they go up to F20) are, as a group, often called the Symbol keys. For example, from this Apple help page:

Some keys repeat when you hold them down, depending on where you type them. Hold down the Space bar or symbol keys (like hyphen or equals) to make these characters repeat in most apps.

This includes the punctuation keys you indicate with the red dots but also the various brackets and maths symbols just to the left and below the backspace key.

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Welcome to ELL.SE. Thank you for your contribution, but please remember to include supporting references or examples in answers; I have added one for you. – choster Mar 17 at 19:33

The keys you have highlighted show non-alphabet characters and as a group are called


which are used as separators in writing to help the reader.

The exceptions would be > and < which are not usually used in writing composition, but can be used in program coding or mathematical formulae.

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@ColleenV Technically, basically all of the punctuation characters are used heavily in programming. I've got 40 lines up on one of my screens and have all of the characters except for the tilde and backtick. Sure you knew that, just expanding on your comment. – Doyle Lewis Mar 16 at 14:24
The OP asked for the names of the keys (individually and severally), not a name for them as a group. – Jim Reynolds Mar 16 at 14:55
@JimReynolds The OP's question was very ambiguous. "how to call them together?" I know you tried to change it, but still. – Mr Lister Mar 16 at 16:37
When you're doing programming, rather than HTML/XML, those keys are "greater than" and "less than", not "angle brackets". (And "->" becomes a reference to a structure member.) Like the rest of these keys, the name and meaning depends on the context in which you're working. "/" is a slash if you're writing Unix directory paths, division if you're doing math. – jamesqf Mar 16 at 21:50

The keys are called the following:

  • ` keycode 49 (keysym 0x60, grave)
  • ; keycode 47 (keysym 0x3b, semicolon)
  • ' keycode 48 (keysym 0x27, apostrophe)
  • , keycode 59 (keysym 0x2c, comma)
  • . keycode 60 (keysym 0x2e, period)
  • / keycode 61 (keysym 0x2f, slash)

These are the terms reported by xev on Ubuntu Linux for the keys.

If you need to refer to a specific hardware key, regardless of installed keyboard driver or keyboard layout, then the keycode is the proper term to use (i.e. keycode 47 for the key with the ; character). The ASCII character name for each unshifted key with the en_US keyboard layout is shown in parentheses.

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Keycode 49 does not represent the key (~/`) it only represents the grave symbol – ColleenV Mar 21 at 0:34
@ColleenV: Keycode 49 means the grave symbol in state 0, and the tilde in state 1. Here is the result of pressing the key without shift: state 0x0, keycode 49 (keysym 0x60, grave), same_screen YES, and here is the result of holding right shift (which itself produces keycode 62) then pressing the key: state 0x1, keycode 49 (keysym 0x7e, asciitilde), same_screen YES. The 0x0 means 0 in base 8, and the 0x1 means 1 in base 8. – dotancohen Mar 21 at 7:02
My point is that you're saying the same thing as apsillers with less well-known terms. We refer to the keys by their un-shifted state. Would you say "Press keycode 59" if you were giving instructions to someone to press the key with the comma on it? Yes, the keycodes are a standard and are precise, but in the context of learning English I think they need a little more explanation than you've provided. How do you use them in a sentence? – ColleenV Mar 21 at 12:23

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