What do these symbols mean? ⌘ ⌥ ⌃ ⇧

Have you even seen symbols like the ones above on your Mac or in a computer book? Go ahead and click on the "File" menu at the top of the screen right now. Don't worry, I'll wait…

To the right of most of the options in the menubar you will see those symbols along with letters or numbers. Your Mac is telling you what combination of keys you can press on your keyboard to perform that action without you having to go all the way up the menu and selecting it with your mouse. These are called keyboard shortcuts and they can save you a lot of time.

If you've been reading other tutorials in the this blog you have probably noticed that when I want you to use a keyboard shortcut I write it out like this:

Select a line of text then hold down Command and press the "C" key on your keyboard to copy.

But if you go up to the menubar and click on "Edit" you'll see that your Mac writes it out like this ⌘C. If you are using a word processor like TextEdit or Pages you might even see a combination like this ⌥⇧⌘P for "Paste and Match Style…" So what do these symbols mean and how do we use them?

The symbols that come before the final letter or number represent what we call Modifier keys. They modify what happens when you press a letter, symbol, or number key. You actually use a modifier key for every sentence you write on your computer. That's because the Shift key is a modifier key. When you hold it down it turns a letter key into a capital letter instead of lower case. You also use it when you press the number "1" key to change from a 1 to an exclamation mark.

Using Modifier Keys

You probably already know the basics of how to use modifier keys like the shift key but let me explain the basics.

1. Press and hold down the "Shift" key.

2. While keeping the "Shift" key held down press and release the "A" key to type a capital "A."

3. Release the Shift Key.

That's it! If you want to use one of the keyboard shortcuts from the Menubar you just hold down all of the modifier keys in the list and press the letter, symbol, or number at the end. But wait, what do those strange symbols mean?

Symbol Guide

Now that you know all about modifier keys you are ready to decipher those symbols. Unfortunately I can't mail all you a super secret decoder ring so instead you can use this handy guide:

SymbolKeyboard Key
Command
Option
Control
Shift
Delete
Escape

Now you are fully equipped to explore your Menubar and find useful keyboard shortcuts for actions you use frequently. A good starting place is the basics like Save, Copy, Paste, and Print. If you don't know these yet try exploring the Menubar to find their shortcut keys.