34 Mac keyboard shortcuts you need to know

Karen Haslam
28 January, 2015
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Apple keyboard, mac, help, macworld australiaWondering where the Option key is? Baffled by the Control and Apple key? Confused by the switch from PC to Mac? Or just looking for some ways to speed up your productivity when using your Mac? Look no further.

The three most important keys on your Mac can be found to the left and right of the spacebar (for right and left handed use). Unfortunately these three keys seem to cause more confusion than any others.

Where and what is the option key!

There is a great deal of confusion over what Apple often calls the Option key. In some countries the the Option key is called the Alt key so it’s no wonder some people don’t know where it is.

The Option (aka the Alt key) can be found between Control and Command.

What’s the Command key? I hear you ask…

The Command key has a legacy that leads to confusion. Many will refer to it as the Apple key, because in the past there used to be an Apple logo on it. The logo you will definitely find on this key looks like a squiggly square. It was designed by Susan Kare for the original iMac (and based on the Scandinavian icon for places of interest).

The Command (cmd) key works in a similar way to the Control key on a PC. On a Mac you use the Command key where on a PC you would use Control (or Ctrl). E.g:

Command-B = Bold

Command-I = Italic

Command-Z = Undo

Command-Q = Quit

Command-W = Close window

So, if you are wondering how to copy and paste on a Mac…

Command-C = Copy

Command-X = Cut

Command-V = Paste

What does the Control key do then?

The most common use of Control is to mimic the right click on a mouse or when using the mouse pad (since some Apple mouse don’t have the right click option). However, there are many more uses for Control when used with other key combinations.


Other Apple keys…

Before we get on to these key combinations, there are a few other Apple specific keys (depending on your keyboard).

F1/F2 – Brightness

F3 – Mission Control (for an overview of all running applications, grouping windows from the same application)

F4 - Spaces (which allows you to create and assign a ‘space’ for different categories of applications – one screen for social networks another screen for real work)

F10/F11/F12 – Sound

How to type letters with accent marks

Some letters can be typed with accents on top, like this é, ä, ö. This is easy to do in OS X, just hold the letter down on the keyboard. Above it appears a bubble menu with all the different options. Each accent option has a number below it, tap the number on the keyboard to turn the letter into that accented version.

How to type special characters and math symbols


Character Viewer


You can use the Character Viewer to find special characters and math symbols. In Finder choose Edit > Special Characters (or press Command-Control-Space). This opens the Character Viewer window.

The Character Viewer enables you to locate any special character from any font on your Mac. Use the sidebar to view different categories, such as Currency Symbols or Math Symbols and double-click any item in the main window to insert it into your document.

You can also search for any option using the Search field in the top-right. Enter a term like “cat” to find all the symbols that are cat-like.

The Character Viewer is placed permanently above all other windows, so you can continue typing in your app and view the Character Viewer on top of its document. You can switch between a small and large Character Viewer using the icon to the right of the Search Field.

It is also possible to add the Character Viewer as a Menu bar icon, this enables you to quickly access it from any app. Open System Preferences, choose Keyboard  > Keyboard and select the Show Keyboard & Character Viewers in Menu Bar option. Now you can click on the Character Viewer icon in the Menu bar and choose Show Character Viewer.

Where do I find emoji characters on a Mac?

Emoji Characters on a Mac

Emoji characters (small graphics) started out in Japan years ago, but have become more common. You find Emoji in the Character Viewer. There is a special section called Emoji in the sidebar. Often it’s easier to use the Search field in Character Viewer to find Emoji characters.

How do I learn shortcuts for OS X keys

Use the Keyboard Viewer to learn special characters


One neat trick to learning keyboard shortcuts on a Mac is to use the Keyboard Viewer. Enable the Show Keyboard & Character Viewers in Menu Bar option (in System Preferences > Keyboard > Keyboard).

Now click on the Character Viewer icon in the Menu bar and choose Show Keyboard Viewer. A visual representation of the keyboard appears, and as you press keys they will be highlighted. If you hold down the Option and Shift keys the Keyboard Viewer shows all the special characters on each key. You can use this to learn the special characters on each key.

Missing Expose?

Before Expose became Mission Control you could view all the documents open in a particular application, or hide the windows to show the desktop. You still can:

Control-F3 = App Expose

Command-F3 = show desktop

Now for some of those keys you can’t find…

Option-2 = Trade Mark (™)

Option-3 = British Pound (£)

Option-: = ellipsis (…)

Option-G – copyright ©

Used to using a PC keyboard? Wondering how to delete forwards?

Fn-Delete = Forward delete

Command- or Option-Delete = Delete the whole word to the left of the cursor

Taking screen shots and screen grabs?

Command-Shift-3 – Capture the screen to a file

Command-Shift-4 – Capture a selection to a file

Shutting down and ‘Sleeping’ your Mac

Ctrl-Eject = Show the restart / sleep / shutdown dialogue

Shift-Control-Eject = Will put your displays to sleep

Command-Option-Eject = Will put the computer to sleep

Command-Control-Eject = Save/Quit all applications then sleep

Command-Option-esc = Force Quit

Command-shift-Option-esc (for three seconds) = Force Quit the front-most application


Some other useful key combos to know

Command-Shift-Question Mark (?) – open help

Command-Shift-Delete – Empty Trash

The Application Switcher

Another handy key combo is the one that brings up the Application switcher. This is a handy way to move between different applications you have open.

Command-Tab = Move to the next most recently used application from your open applications

Command-Shift-Tab = Move backward through a list of open applications (sorted by recent use)

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