The Option key is another name for the key that's labelled Alt on a Mac keyboard. That's essentially what you need to know. Read on if you'd like a little more detail, some background, and some other Mac keys with which you might not be familiar.
"Where is the Option key on a Mac?" That's a question many new Mac users ask, typically turning to Google with the question. Which may be how you, dear reader, landed on this page.
(If you would like to learn some more really handy keyboard shortcuts, check out our 30 Essential Mac Keyboard Shortcuts article.)
Brits especially wonder where to find the Option key on a Mac. And it's hardly surprising that many newcomers to Apple computers may be a little stumped. Scan the keyboard of any Apple Macintosh sold in the UK since 2006, and you're unlikely to find a key labelled Option. So where is the Mac Option key?
Best we can see, Apple removed the Option naming convention on non-US Mac keyboards around the time of the processor migration from Motorola/IBM to Intel. In other words, after leaving the G3, G4 and G5 for the Intel Core 2 Duo and Core i3/i5/i7 series.
The answer to the question of where is the Option key is simple. The Option key on a Mac is the same as the Alt key in Windows. Otherwise known as the Alternate key, it's most commonly represented by the symbol second from left in the photo below, especially on Apple Mac keyboards. But it may also be seen in its inverted form.
Bottom row, from left: Ctrl, Alt (or Option) and Apple (or Command) keys on a Mac keyboard
The Alt key will be more familiar to Windows PC users as the key immediately to the left of the Spacebar. So if you plug a Windows or IBM PC keyboard into a Mac, pressing the Alt key has the same effect as pressing the Option key.
What is the Command (or Cmd) key on a Mac?
The Option key is not to be confused with the Apple key, also know as the Command key, and depicted with the quadruple loop symbol third from left above. The Apple key is used with a single letter key for many of the Mac's most common actions: Apple-S saves in most common applications, for instance, and Apple-P prints. Apple-T opens a new tab in your web browser.
Nor is it the same as the Control key (Ctrl). The Ctrl key is enjoyed more regularly by PC users, for whom it acts similarly to the Apple key for Mac users; on a PC Ctrl-S saves, Ctrl-P prints, and so on. For Mac users perhaps the handiest use of Ctrl is for simulating a right-click when using a one-button mouse: Ctrl-left-click does the job.
(Read definitions of more Apple-related tech terms in our Apple users' tech jargon dictionary.)
What does the Option key do?
The Option key has many essential uses on the Mac; notably to select boot partition when starting the computer, and for direct printing of diacritical marks such as å, ß, ∂ and µ from the keyboard.
We don't know why Apple decided to remove the Option legend on some territories' keyboards and instead use only the word 'Alt' and the relevant symbol.
If you know or would like to offer your suggestion why this took place, please do get in touch.