How Windows Keyboard Shortcuts Compare to Mac Shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts are combinations of key presses that let you carry out a task without navigating through the menus. PCs have two kinds of keyboard shortcuts. For some, you hold down the Ctrl key and a letter key; for others, you press the Alt key and type one letter from each menu item name — often, but not always, the first letter. Mac keyboard shortcuts are like the first type, but you use the Command key instead of the Ctrl key.

Following are examples of Mac keyboard shortcuts:

Keyboard Shortcut    
Command+C Copy
Command+X Cut
Command+V Paste
Command+A Select All
Command+F Find
Command+G Find Again
Command+S Save
Command+Z Undo

Replacing the Ctrl key press with the Command key also applies to most Ctrl key shortcuts in programs, such as Microsoft Office.

The letters in keyboard shortcut combinations are always shown capitalized on-screen, but the Mac recognizes the lowercase versions as well. Thus, you can type either Command+Q or Command+q to quit (exit) the program.

Although the Mac OS X menu layout appears to be intuitive and easy to follow, Apple does get a little carried away with shortcuts. There are dozens of them, so don’t try to remember them all. OS X displays the available shortcut for each menu item right in the drop-down menu itself. Some combinations use different and even multiple control keys. Apple uses other symbols in addition to the Command symbol and Apple symbol to indicate these keys:

  • Option: This key often modifies a shortcut or menu item by telling it to do more. So, for example, Command+W closes the front window. Option+Command+W closes all windows for the front application. Shortcuts can be complex. The shortcut in TextEdit for Edit→Paste and Match Style is Option+Shift+Command+V.

  • Control: This key’s symbol looks like a hat. The key is pressed in combination with a mouse click to mean right-click.

  • Shift: Either the right or left Shift key may be used, but caps lock has no effect on shortcuts that include a Shift key.

  • Escape: This key’s symbol looks a lot like the power button icon, but it’s different. The line is at an angle and has a little arrow pointing out. Escape is a shortcut for Cancel in dialog boxes.

Many other Mac keyboard shortcuts exist. Open the Apple menu and choose System Preferences→Keyboard & Mouse and then choose Keyboard Shortcuts to see a list. The Keyboard & Mouse pane has many other options for customizing your input experience.

If you have difficulty holding down combinations of keys, you can activate the sticky keys feature in the System Preferences→Universal Access pane.

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