Why no 1/2 and 1/4 keys on computer keyboards?

For all the many years I used a typewriter before I got into computers, they always had a key with 1/2 and shifted 1/4. You would think computer keyboard makers would have this oft-used key. All they would have to do is get rid of the stupid Scoll Lock key and substitute the fraction one.

It may be because in the early days of computing, it was nigh impossible to display fractions on the screen. Just a wild guess…

I don’t remember seeing 1/2 or 1/4 keys on typewriters. Indeed, you would sometimes see typewriters without even 1 or 0 keys because I and O would stand in for them.

Because most word processor programs will make it for you if you just type ‘1/2’ or ‘1/4’?

First, persuade every software house in the world to stop using the scroll lock key, and then wait for every user in the world to stop using what they have now. Or you could type “1/2” or use an alt-code or character map. Whichever makes the most sense.

Also, embrace the decimal system. It’s time!

No, you wouldn’t. Not when you consider that it’s a three-character expression which is not nearly as common as other three-character expressions such as “the” or “and” (I’ll bet you my entire stock portfolio that both of these are used far more often than 1/2 or 1/4). Yet you don’t see a “the” or an “and” key on most keyboards either. There are plenty of keyboards that offer customizable keys though. If you are so inclined, you can purchase one and program in fractions to your heart’s content. Put a pi key in there while you’re at it, too.

Those keys are there in principle. They are called “alt” keys. Just hit “ALT” and hold it while hitting 171 on the number pad for 1/2 and “ALT” 172 for the 1/4. Many other ascll options are there.

And you hit upon the reason the keys aren’t there, simply by making a mistake: The characters everyone is talking about aren’t in ASCII, which, for the longest time, was the only character set you could reasonably use to share text between computers of different types.

ASCII only contains the (printing) characters that are on the keyboard, plus a number of control characters like control-C and so on that have special meaning to some programs. The encodings of the characters you access by hitting alt and then a series of numbers are very specific to Windows. Putting a lot of non-ASCII characters on keyboards would have forced keyboard makers to tie their keyboards to one specific OS a lot more than the ‘menu’ and ‘windows’ keys did, and it apparently wasn’t worth it to them.

Unicode and all its various specific encodings is dragging us out of this dark age by giving us a single character set which both contains everything and is shared by everyone (who still matters). It is already in very widespread use, although it will probably never be absolutely 100% universal. It remains to be seen if this will affect keyboard design.

I certainly remember typewriters with ½ and ¼ keys. I also remember thinking I might need other fractional expressions, and I couldn’t see why those two should be privileged by single-character status.

There are plenty of times where fractions make more sense and are easier to understand than decimals. For example, most people don’t immediately see that 0.625 means five parts of eight.

Also, lots of useful fractions (⅓, for example), are infinitely repeating in decimal.

There are 1/4, 1/2 and 3/4 keys on my keyboard (Canadian French configuration). ¼ is AltGr + 0, ½ is AltGr + -, ¾ is AltGr + =.

You’d be amazed how little the need for 5/8 comes up when you deal exclusively in metric.

Metric? How do you measure, say, groups of people in metric? How do you measure portions of the day in metric?

What? Is “five parts of eight” supposed to be clearer? Quick, which is larger, 9/16 or 4/7th?

Sure, there are times when fractions make more sense, but 5/8 ain’t it.

Percentages, usually.

Morning, Afternoon, Evening, Night.

I’m just not sure what the problem with is with doing exactly what everyone has done in this thread.


Loads of flexibility.


Why is there no 134/385 key?

Not metric, but most people I know just say how many hours rather than offering as a fraction of a day.

“Oft-used”? I had a typewriter when I was a kid in the 80s that had the 1/2 and 1/4 key. The only time I might ever use it is if I’m never going to set any other fractions in the piece that I’m typing. For example, if 3/4 or 5/8 comes up in whatever I’m typing, it looks silly to have 1/2 and 1/4 set a single character and then 3/4 and 5/8 set as three characters. For consistency, I would always use the numeral-slash-numeral notation.

For me, it was next to useless.

I’m with the “not useful” crowd - both of those can be easily done with the number keys and a slash. Now I’m wondering why they bothered putting it on keyboards at all - who used 1/2 and 1/4 often enough to want a single key for it? Were these common in printers’ type sets?

What I really came in here for is to say that I once worked on a computer that had the 1/2 and 1/4 key. It was a Singer computer that I first cut my programming teeth on back in '76. We used the native instruction set instead of Basic (because basic took too much memory!) and 1/2 <letter> would print <letter>, and 1/4 would do the same in caps.