Keyboard shortcuts are a brilliant time-saver; it's much easier to tap two or three keys at once than to go hunting through nested menus. But shortcuts depend on knowledge and muscle memory. You need to put in the time to learn them before you can benefit in the long run.

That's why we're here. This guide to the essential keyboard shortcuts for Mac users covers the most useful hotkey combinations that will save you time and stress.

You will find you need key combinations for a variety of reasons. In this article we will cover the key combinations for saving, copying and pasting, printing, closing a window, closing or hiding an app, and lots more. We'll also cover key combination you can use when booting or starting up a Mac. (If you are looking for the key combination to type characters like °$€@®©# £€¢™ read this).

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 keys seem to cause more confusion than any others. So our shortcuts guide will begin by clearing up the mystery, and explaining what you can do with Fn, Ctrl, Alt and Cmd. 

And if you're using a Mac keyboard with a PC, you'll probably need a bit of extra help. Have a look at How to use a Mac keyboard in Windows.

The Option / Alt key

There is a great deal of confusion over what Apple refers to as the Option key. If you're using a UK keyboard, chances are this is called the Alt key so it's no wonder most people don't know where it is.

The Alt (aka Option) key can be found between Control and Command. It has an icon that looks like a slope and a dip with a line above it.

Chances are the first time you hear mention of Option/Alt you are following a tutorial and trying to fix something on your Mac. The Alt/Option key is the one you use if you wish to select a boot partition when starting the computer, you also press it when typing certain characters on your keyboard, such as # (Alt-3) or ¢ (Alt-4).

Here's an overview of the hidden characters that you can type using Alt (the keys might be a bit different if you aren't using a UK keyboard). We have a separate guide to how to type €, #, @, © and more special characters on a Mac here.

Mac keyboard shortcuts: Alt key

The Option key also enables you to enable the Save As option in Mac apps. Just press it when you click on the File menu and you'll see the new options.

You may be wondering whether you can use the Alt key, along with Ctrl and Delete, to shut down an unresponsive Mac - the famour Ctrl-Alt-Delete combo from the Windows PC. Force-quitting on a Mac is slightly different to on a PC: here's how to Force Quit on a Mac.

You can also use Alt/Option to do the following:

  • Control-Alt-Command-Power Button: Quit all apps
  • Alt-Shift-Command-Q: Log out of your user account
  • Alt-Delete: Delete the word to the left of the curser
  • Alt-Left Arrow: Move the curser to the beginning of the previous word, add Shift to this to highlight the text
  • Alt-Right Arrow: Move the curser to the end of the next word. (Add Shift to highlight the text)
  • If you are selecting large sections of text, you can do so by moving the curser to the end of the section you wish to select and pressing Alt-Shift-Up Arrow until all the text is selected. (This only works in some apps)
  • Similarly, Alt-Shift-Down Arrow lets you highlight the text below the cursor
  • Alt-Command-F will open the Find and Replace feature if your application has it
  • Alt-Command-T will show or hide the toolbar
  • Alt-Command-C is the key combo to use if you wish to copy a style, or copy the formatting settings to the clipboard
  • And Alt-Command-V will paste those formatting settings on to the text you wish to change
  • Alt-Shift-Command-V will paste and match style - so that the text you paste in has the same style as the text around it, rather than the style brought over from the place you copied it from
  • Alt-Command-D will show or hide the Dock at the bottom of your screen
  • In the Finder, Alt-Command-L is a handy shortcut to open the Downloads folder
  • Also in the Finder, pressing Alt-Command-P will show the path so you can see the precise location of what you're looking at
  • Alt-Command-S will show or hide the Sidebar in the Finder
  • Alt-Command-N will start a new Smart Folder in the Finder
  • If you select a few files in the Finder, you can press Alt-Command-Y to see a full-screen slideshow of those files
  • A shortcut to the Display preferences is to press Alt-Brightness Up (or Brightness Down, aka F1 or F2)
  • You can open Mission Control preferences by pressing Alt-Mission Control (F3)
  • To duplicate/copy an item in the Finder or on your Desktop, press Alt while dragging it
  • To create an Alias (a shortcut to a file) you press Alt and Command together while dragging the file from the location in the Finder to another location, an arrow sign will appear indicating that this is a link to the file rather than a copy of it

The Command key

If you thought that the jumbling of Alt and Option was baffling, there's even more opportunity for confusion when it comes to the Command key. The Command key (cmd) has a legacy that leads to confusion - many older Mac users will refer to it as the Apple key, because in the past there used to be an Apple logo on it, but this logo stopped appearing a while ago when if was decided that there were a few too many Apple logos on Apple products. 

The logo you will still find on this key looks like a squiggly square, or a four petalled flower. It was designed by Susan Kare for the original iMac (and based on the Scandinavian icon for place of interest).

Mac keyboard shortcuts: Cmd

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).

If you were wondering why Ctrl-B didn't make your text bold, chances are you were previously a PC user and didn't realise that Command is the new Control. You might find this useful: How to move from PC to Mac: Complete guide to switching to a Mac from a PC.

Here are a few of the key combinations that use Command:

  • Command-Q: Quit
  • Command-W: Close window
  • Command-N: Open a New document
  • Command-W: Close the current window
  • Command-A: Select all
  • Command-I: Italic
  • Command-B: Bold
  • Command-Z: Undo
  • Command-P: Print
  • Command-S: Save
  • Command-C: Copy
  • Command-X: Cut
  • Command-V: Paste (We cover these last three in more detail here: How to copy and paste on a Mac.)
  • Command-F: Find 
  • Command-G: Find again
  • Command-T: Show or hide Fonts window
  • Command-H: Hide the windows of the app you are using
  • Command-M: Minimise the current window and send it to the Dock
  • Command-Space Bar: Open the Spotlight search window
  • Command-Tab: Switch between open apps
  • Command-Comma (,): Open preferences for the app you are using
  • Command-Left Arrow: Move the cursor to the beginning of the line
  • Command-Right Arrow: Move the cursor to the end of the line
  • Command-Up Arrow: Move the cursor to the beginning of the document
  • Command-Down Arrow: Move the cursor to the end of the document. (Press shift to select the text between the insertion point and the destination in each of these scenarios)
  • Command-Left Curly Bracket: Align Left
  • Command-Right Curly Bracket: Align Right
  • Command-T: will open a new tab if you're in the Finder or in a web browser, or any other app that supports Tabs

There are even more shortcuts available if you add another key, such as Shift:

  • Shift-Command-P: Page setup (for checking how the page will print)
  • Shift-Command-S: Save As or duplicate the document
  • Shift-Command-3 to take a screenshot on a Mac
  • Shift-Command-4 for more screen shot tools
  • Shift-Command-5 for even more screen shot (We cover these last three in more detail here: How to take a screenshot on a Mac)
  • Shift-Command-|: Centre
  • Shift-Command-Minus sign: Decrease font size
  • Shift-Command-Plus sign: Increase font size
  • Shift-Command-Question mark: Open Help menu

In the Finder you could try the following:

  • Command-D - Duplicate the file
  • Command-E - Eject the volumne
  • Command-F - Search
  • Command-I - Get Info
  • Command-K - Connect to the server
  • Command-L - Make an alias
  • Command-Delete - sends the selected item to the Trash
  • Shift-Command-D - Open the Desktop folder
  • Shift-Command-F - Open the All My Files folder
  • Shift-Command-H - Open the Home folder
  • Shift-Command-G - Open a Go To folder window
  • Shift-Command-I - Open your iCloud Drive
  • Shift-Command-K - Browse the network 
  • Shift-Command-O - Open the Documents folder
  • Shift-Command-R - Shortcut to the AirDrop window
  • Shift-Command-Delete - Empty the Trash (add the Alt key if you don't want to see the confirmation dialogue)

The Control key

With the Command key doing the job on Mac that the Control key does on PC, you may be wondering why there's also a Control key on a Mac keyboard.

The most common use of Control is to mimic the right-click on a mouse or when using the mouse pad (since some Apple mice don't have the right click option).

Mac keyboard shortcuts: Ctrl

There are many more uses for Control when used with other key combinations, for example:

  • Control-H: Delete the character on the left
  • Control-D: Delete the character on the right
  • Control-K: Delete the text from where your curser is to the end of the line
  • Control-A: Move to the beginning of the line (more here: How to find End and Home on a Mac keyboard)
  • Control-E: Move to the end of a line or paragraph
  • Control-F: Move forward one character
  • Control-B: Move backward one character
  • Control-Command-Power button will restart your Mac
  • Control-Shift-Power button: Puts your display to sleep
  • Control-Option-Command-Power button: Quits all your apps and shuts your Mac

You can also use the Control key to add a document or folder to the Dock. Go to the Finder and select the item you wish to add to the Dock (or search for it using Spotlight: Cmd-Space, or select it on your Desktop). Then press Control-Shift-Command-T.

The F keys

There are a few other Apple specific keys (depending on your keyboard):

  • F1/F2: Brightness Up and Down
  • F3: Mission Control (for an overview of all running applications, grouping windows from the same application, and your Spaces)
  • F4: A shortcut to all the apps you have on your Mac

Mac keyboard shortcuts: F keys

  • F10/F11/F12: Sound

Mac keyboard shortcuts: F keys

You can set other F keys to do Mission Control actions. Go to System Preferences > Mission Control and add unused F keys to do functions such as Show Desktop or Dashboard.

Other useful key combinations

There are a few times where keyboard combinations enable you to troubleshoot problems with your Mac. For example, if you want to start your Mac in Safe Mode you need to know which key combination you need (press and hold the Shift key during start up - more here). Similarly, to access the Recovery mode you usually need to hold down hold cmd+R at start up - more here - there are actually multiple key combinations you can use).

Below we'll run through a few times when key combinations can be handy.

Shutting down a Mac

  • Ctrl-Eject: Show the restart / sleep / shutdown dialog
  • Shift-Control-Eject: Will put your displays to sleep
  • Command-Alt-Eject: Will put the computer to sleep
  • Command-Control-Eject: Save/Quit all applications then restarts Mac
  • Command-Alt-Control-Eject: Quit all applications then shuts down the Mac
  • Command-Shift-Q: Log out of your OS X user account (you'll be asked to confirm action)
  • Command-Shift-Alt-Q: Log out of your OS X user account immediately (you won't be asked to confirm action)
  • Command-Alt-Esc: Force Quit
  • Command-shift-Alt-Esc (for three seconds): Force-quit the front-most application

Read next: How to lock a Mac

Using 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)
  • Command-~ (Tilde): Move backward through a list of open applications (only when Application switcher is active)

Mac keyboard shortcuts: Dock

If you find this sort of thing interesting, you can read definitions of more Apple-related tech terms in our Apple users' tech jargon dictionary.