A Tour of the Mac Keyboard

It can be useful for new Mac users, those switching from Windows, or even experience Mac users to take a tour of the typical Mac keyboard. Learn what modifier keys are called and what they do. Find out about keys that may not always be called the same thing that is printed on them. Learn what some obscure keys are used for.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: A Tour of the Mac Keyboard.

Here's a quick tour of Mac keyboard. This is the keyboard for the current MacBook. Every Mac has a slightly different keyboard so things may vary. Somethings stay the same. Like, for instance, the modifier keys. We've got Shift, Control, Option and Command.So some things to know about these.

The Command key has that special symbol above it and that's used a lot in documentation. If you see that it just means command. Say Command, like if you see that symbol and the letter S, you say Command S. Likewise Option sometimes is called the Alt key. That's because on Windows it's called Alt. On the Mac it's always been called Option. Some older Mac keyboards don't even have the word Alt there. You've got the Control key as well which is different than the Command key. Sometimes they are used in combination for things. Note that in Windows Control is the main key for doing things like Control S for Save. Whereas Command is the main key on the Mac for doing things like Command and S for Save.

Sometimes you use these three keys in combination like you might do Control, Option, Command and then a key. Sometimes you throw in the Shift key there as well as another modifier key. There are duplicates, very often, of these keys on the right side. On this keyboard there's only Command, Option, and Shift. Sometimes there's all four on the right side as well. It doesn't matter which one of these you use in most situations although I've seen some games that actually will use the left and right version of these keys for different things.

Another thing to know about is the Return key. You notice that on this keyboard it also says Enter. Sometimes people say hit the Enter key. Sometimes people say to hit the Return key. It's the same key. Sometimes apps, like maybe spreadsheet apps, can use them as different things. But for the most part they are used for the same thing. One thing I find that's useful to know is every once in a while Option and Return does something different. Like, for instance, in certain cases in Facebook if you hit Return it posts whatever it is that you're typing. If you hit Option Return it actually gives you a new line to continue typing.

The Delete key up here is sometimes called the backspace key. So if somebody says hit the backspace key you know they mean the Delete key. If you ever wanted to go and forward delete you use that fn key at the bottom left corner, hit Delete and it will do a forward delete as well.

Now you've got the Function keys at the top. These can do two different things. They can type the F1, F2, F3, etc commands which some apps use for special functions or they can do the things they show with symbols at the top. Like Brightness controls, Volume controls, Playback controls, that kind of thing. Now if the key is doing what you don't want it to do, like for instance it's doing F1 rather than adjusting Brightness, use the fn key at the bottom left hand corner of the keyboard to do the opposite. If you want to swap how these work go to System Preferences, Keyboard, and you can use the checkbox here to swap how they work. So you can make the F1 key, for instance, do F1 when you press it or you can make it change brightness when you press it. The fn key will then do the opposite of whatever you select here. So you always have all the options available.

Now you've got the Escape key at the top left. That's always spelled as esc on the keyboard. You use this for certain functions inside of apps like deselecting things, for instance, in image editing apps. Also, Command, Option, esc will bring up the ability to quit an app that maybe is misbehaving.

At the top right you either see the eject key or power button key. Power buttons on most Macs now because they are not optical drives anymore. Note that in order to use this key you have to press and hold it. You don't just tap it. After you hold it for a few seconds you'll get some options to be able to shutdown or sleep your Mac.

Note that the plus and minus keys, these are always called plus and minus, are actually minus and equals. But when you see instructions like use Command Plus and Command Minus to zoom in and out then it really means Command minus and Command equals. You don't need to use the Shift key normally to change it to plus when you're doing zoom in and zoom out.

Likewise the question mark key is really the slash key but very often is referred to as the question mark key. However you do need to use the Shift key in a lot of cases here, for instance to get help inside of apps it'll sometimes say Command ? and that really means Command Shift ?, so just something to be aware of depending upon how they write their instructions and help information.

Also, at the top left if somebody ever tells you to use the tilde key or type a tilde, sometimes people pronounce that differently, it's that little swiggle that you get when you hit Shift and that key there that's right under the escape key. That's used a lot in doing things like typing paths to files. Like ~/documents is your documents folder. You don't have to type user/ and then your user name/ documents. The tilde takes the place of everything leading up to the contents of your user folder.

Comments: 3 Responses to “A Tour of the Mac Keyboard”

    Ian Begaud
    2 years ago

    As usual, there is always something useful in a post. This is no different. always good. We’ll done!

    bill braun
    2 years ago

    What about an older Mac keyboard with my iMac that does not have a fn key. I use Keyboard Maestro as a text expander, but now the F keys do not perform the function that is engraved on them. There is no option in system preferences (the window you referenced) on my iMac to alter this function. How do I get the f keys to do both?

    2 years ago

    bill: Are you sure there isn’t an “fn” key on your keyboard? They have been on Mac keyboards for a very very long time. In fact, if your F-keys have both the F-number on them and a function icon, then there must be an “fn” key on there otherwise why would there be two functions shown? Check your keyboard carefully.

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