A Beginner’s Guide to Mac Keyboard Shortcuts

If you are new to Mac you may not yet be taking full advantage of keyboard shortcuts. You can find almost all shortcuts by simply looking at the command in the menu bar. There are symbols that you will find in the menu bar that map to the Shift, Control, Option and Command keys on the Mac keyboard. You can also find shortcuts in System Preferences, and even assign your own to menu commands that have no shortcut. One difficulty that Windows users often have is that the Control key is used as the primary modifier key in Windows, while the Command key is the equivalent on the Mac.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: A Beginner’s Guide to Mac Keyboard Shortcuts.

If you're new to Mac you may not yet be taking full use of common keyboard shortcuts. So keyboard shortcuts are typically things that you could perform as menu commands by clicking on the Menu Bar at the top but you can do them using your keyboard instead to save time.

For instance, if I wanted to copy something I would select it, I'd go to Edit, I'd go to Copy and then I could go somewhere else and go to Edit and Paste. Likewise I could Undo the same way. But all those things have keyboard shortcuts. So I could select what I want and notice in the menu here you see the keyboard shortcut right next to the command. So Copy has a keyboard shortcut right here. Command C. Now you may not know what this symbol means but if you look on your keyboard at the Command key you will see that the symbol if actually on it. So it's giving you a clue. So I could use Command C to copy, Command V to paste, and Command Z to undo. So without going to the menu here I can do Command C, click here, Command V, and I can do Command Z to undo. So I can do those much quicker without having to go to the menus.

Now the key to knowing which keyboard shortcuts match to which commands is knowing what these symbols mean. So these symbols have a meaning that map directly to modifier keys on your keyboard. Here you can see them. You can see the symbols for Shift, for Control, for Option, and for Command. It's important to note that on the Mac keyboard there are two completely separate keys. One called Control and the other called Command. This can be confusing if you've come from the Windows world where Control is the primary modifier key. You would say do Control C to copy. But on the Mac you use the Command C to copy and to make it confusing Control is the name of a key but is a different key. Most keyboard shortcuts use Command as the primary modifier, not Control. So it's important to realize the difference between Mac and Windows with the Command and Control key and to make sure you're using the correct shortcut key.

So from there it's just a matter of looking in the Menus and seeing which keyboard shortcuts are available. There are some keyboard shortcuts that are universal. For instance Copy is Command C in every app. Also other ones. Like, for instance, if you go to View you'll notice that the commands for things like opening up new tabs or closing windows, things like that, they're the same. File, if you go to Print it's Command P. If you go to the Application menu Command Q is always quit.

So there's some that once you learn them they work across apps. There are others that are very specific to the app because they're commands that only have to do with what it is you're using the app for. The best thing to do is when you notice yourself going to the Menu Bar to perform commands over and over again look for the keyboard shortcut and start training yourself to using that instead. That will save you precious time as you do your work throughout the day.

Also if you go to System Preferences and you go to Keyboard and then Shortcuts you'll see lists in different categories, the categories are on the left here and then the lists are on the right, of keyboard shortcuts that work throughout your entire Mac to do different things. You can look through these and see the shortcuts for them.

Also here you can reassign the shortcuts. So, for instance, if you wanted to have the shortcut for Show Launchpad to be something other than Shift F1 you can change it. You can also turn them on and off with the little checkmark. So I can turn it on, click in there, and then use the keyboard shortcut to set which one it is. You can also use this menu for creating custom keyboard shortcuts. If you go to App Shortcuts here you can see specific shortcuts for different apps. Yours may be empty but you can hit the Plus button and you could assign an application a shortcut. You just type in the exact name of the Menu. So, for instance, the word Keyboard here is the name of the menu. Under Edit the word Clear would be the name there. You type that in, then hit Keyboard Shortcut, and it would add it there. So you can create your own custom keyboard shortcuts. If you see that there's something that doesn't have a shortcut like say for instance Hide Tab Bar doesn't have a keyboard shortcut you can add one this way, through System Preferences, and you could do it for any app. So even if it's a third party app you can go into System Preferences, add a custom keyboard shortcut through System Preferences for that specific app for that menu command.

Comments: 2 Responses to “A Beginner’s Guide to Mac Keyboard Shortcuts”

    Robert Burnett
    1 year ago

    Gary, one shortcut I would appreciate, the ability to move between favourites in Finder. i.e. music to movies. Despite asking Apple Store staff, no positive replies. Can you help please.

    1 year ago

    Robert: I can’t think of a way to do that, sorry. The problem is that the list doesn’t have a “selection” so going to next or previous doesn’t make sense. I think clicking on them in the sidebar is as convenient as it is going to get.

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