MacMost Now 289: Using Text Substitutions in Snow Leopard

Learn about the new text substitution feature in Snow Leopard that lets you create your own text shortcuts so you can quickly type commonly used phrases or hard-to-type characters.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: MacMost Now 289: Using Text Substitutions in Snow Leopard.

Gary Rosenzweig: Hi this is Gary with MacMost Now. On today's episode let's take a look at the new text substitution feature in Snow Leopard.
So text substitutions allow you to simply replace a few characters with many. The way to get to text substitutions is to go to system preferences and inside of system preferences click on language and text. Once you're there go to the text tab at the top, now you get a list on the left of all of the different text substitutions. You get what to replace with what to replace it with. For instance some of the defaults are that a C surrounded with parentheses will be replaced with the copyright symbol.
Now to go ahead and create your own you press the plus button at the bottom of the screen. Now just type in what you want to replace, so for instance I'm going to do capital MMN and I'm going to set it to replace that with MacMost space Now, so now I've created my own substitution here.
Here I am with a new text edit document and I'm going to type MMN, it doesn't work right away, I have to put some sort of white space like a space after it and it will immediately change to MacMost Now. So now if I'm typing a long document I just do MMN and I get MacMost Now every time I do that.
So where does text substitutions work? It works in a lot of standard Mac applications like text edit, Safari, Mail, iChat, iMovie, iPhoto, it may work in a few other places as well. Where it won't work are third party applications right now and even some Apple applications like in the iWork applications which have their own text substitution feature.
Here I am in mail, a standard Apple application, and I'm going to try to use text substitutions. I type in the body of the message MMN space and you can see nothing happens, this is because I haven't turned on text substitutions for this application. To do so you have two choices, one is to look in the edit menu for substitutions and you can click on show substitutions, now in a lot of applications show substitutions is not available in the edit menu, but you can bring it up by control clicking on an editable area like this and choosing substitutions, show substitutions. That's going to bring up this little control panel here and here I can see I've got text replacement and it's turned off, if I turn it on now I'll find that I can do text substitutions inside of mail, so MMN changes to MacMost Now. Unfortunately, I've got to do that for all sorts of different applications and I have to do it for different areas as well.
I can see that text substitutions is on for the compose area, but if I click on the To field I can see it's off. I turn it on and now text substitutions will work in To fields and it will work in the other fields here in the header as well, but it won't work in the Subject field, I have to turn it on. So it's worth while if you want to use text replacement to go in applications, like Safari, and click on different editable areas and turn on text replacement. For instance in Safari you have to turn it on for say filling out forms and also say for the search area at the top right of Safari, each one has a different text replacement preference.
While this may seem annoying at first it does allow you to customize where text replacement actually works. Here I am in Safari, I'm filling out a form and I want to do text substitutions and it's not working. So I'm going to control click in the editable area, choose substitutions, show substitutions, and I can see that it is turned off for that type of text entry, I'm going to turn it on so now my forms will be able to use text replacement. I can see when I type it works. If I click on the search box I find out that text replacement's turned off so I'm going to turn it on there and I'm going to switch to the system preferences, you can do that by clicking on text preferences in this substitutions control panel. I'm going to do an unconventional type of substitution, mm: is going to stand for, which is a Google substitution that will tell Google that it should only search I find you have to actually click off of the area for it to take effect, I go back to Safari, I type mm: and I find that it replaces it instantly with that, so instead of having to type the whole thing every time I just want to search MacMost I can go ahead and just do mm: now and it will type it for me.
A couple of things I've noticed about text substitutions, if I create one that's all lower case like hw stands for hello world and I go and I type it, it works like that. If I go and I type it in upper case, capital H capital W, it will replace it and capitalize the entire thing. Now, text substitutions is smart enough to understand that if you type hw inside of a word it's not going to substitute hello world for it, only if it's a complete word by itself. Still you may want to use some unusual character combinations, for instance I've set qq1 to be, so if I type it here of course I'm going to get that with a space after it, but fortunately a slash works just as well as a space so I can type qq1/ and it will replace it with and continue with the slash and now I can go ahead and type something else after it.
Now, what if you want to do longer substitutions? Well, you can but it's really hard to type in there so the best thing to do is to actually have the text say, like this, inside of text edit, copy it, then go ahead and create the text substitution by pasting the text in there. Now I've created a multi line text substitution. So I can go ahead and type qq2 and it replaces the entire thing with what I put in there. You can type things like the closing part of a letter or the opening part of a letter or a paragraph that you often add into your emails.
So, the most important thing to remember about text substitutions is that they don't work for all applications, at least not yet. Now that it's built into the system probably more apps will start to use them including more Apple apps and third party apps. Also, remember if it is not working try control clicking looking for the substitutions sub-menu and turning it on and you may have to turn it on multiple times in an application for multiple types of text input, like the search field and form fields in Safari or the compose box and the subject box for mail. That's a quick look at the new text substitutions feature inside of Snow Leopard, until next time this is Gary Rosenzweig with MacMost Now.

Comments: 10 Responses to “MacMost Now 289: Using Text Substitutions in Snow Leopard”

    10 years ago

    When I first heard about text substitutions, I thought, “Cool, but I don’t have a use for them.” Then, while AppleScripting today, it occurred to me that “atids” is a great replacement for “AppleScript’s Text Item Delimiters”! So, keep this in mind when writing code, it can be a real lifesaver. :)

    John Rais
    9 years ago

    Hello. I’m using a 3rd party app called iFlash for making study cards and find it would be very helpful to have a key command to superscript and subscript letters/numbers as used in chemical equations. Is there a shortcut anyone knows of or a technique to create my own shortcut so I don’t have to spend a lengthy search through the special characters menu for each number I wish to change? Thanks

      9 years ago

      It depends on the application. For instance, in Pages you can quickly switch to superscript with Control+Command+Shift+= and subscript with Control+Command+- (minus)
      I think it is slightly different in MS Word. But with iFlash, it would depend on the makers of iFlash to include a shortcut for it.

    Greg Griffiths
    9 years ago

    When I go to my systems preferences, I only get an “International” with no “Language & Text” and no “Text” tab within “International”

    What can I do to fix?


      9 years ago

      Perhaps you don’t have Snow Leopard, then? (Mac OS 10.6)

        Koli B.
        9 years ago

        I personally have 10.5 and am aware this trick doesn’t work directly but it there any way to do the same for simple characters, just like under Windows with ALT+code.

        I’ve been looking everywhere and can’t find it. I need to type different currency signs very often, which are not the one accessible directly from the keyboard.

          9 years ago

          Yes. Using this technique you should be able to do that. For instance, maybe assign $yen to the yen symbol, and $pound to pounds, etc.

    7 years ago

    Hey Gary,

    I just got a Mac, have been using PC forever… Currently using Pages and am annoyed at a few new things. Im using Mac OS X 10.7.3 and Pages ’09. Is there a way for me to create a shortcut (like i could on my PC) for theses symbols: →←↑↓ . I use them a lot in my note making and find it annoying to go through the menu each time or gavin go open it up an look of what I want.

    Your help would be much appreciated.

      7 years ago

      Sure. You can use the same technique as described in this video here. But Pages has its own custom preferences for this. Look in Pages, Preferences, Auto Correction. Then turn on “Symbol and text substitution.” Then add a substitution for every character you want. For instance, you could make >>> substitute to your arrow character.

        7 years ago

        Wow thanks! You responded so quickly and your suggestion works like a charm! Thanks heaps! Maybe I won’t get Word then 😊

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