Thank you for bearing with the exaggeration. But really, the mac keyboard shortcuts that I’ve curated in this post are multi-tasking, they’ll blow your mind & save a lot of time, at the same time.
I’ve been using a MacBook Pro since Nov’2019. After being a windows user for well over a decade, this shift wasn’t easy. I sure was overwhelmed by the interface, having never used the macOS before. However, it didn’t take much time for me to adapt to the OS. That’s the USP of any apple device, simplicity.
It’s been two years & I still am discovering so many newer things even today, and I’m sure apple will keep surprising the users like me in the future as well.
I’m writing this post for those who are new to the Apple ecosystem and want to know the shortcuts macOS has to offer. This is a curation of mac keyboard shortcuts I have discovered in these two years & the ones I discovered upon my research.
Let’s dive in.
Keyboard Shortcuts for Mac
Before we get into knowing the keyboard shortcuts on macOS, let me first explain the modifier keys. Since this post is optimized for beginners who have recently switched from windows or simply have just started using macOS. Therefore, it’s better to explain it beforehand.
Keyboard shortcuts on mac are a combination of modifier keys along with other keys on the keyboard. Let’s check what’s on the Mac keyboards. In certain apps for macOS, you’d see preferences with the symbols of these modifier keys instead of the name of these modifier keys. This would come in handy for those apps. I still get confused with options & shifts at times.
- Command (⌘)
- Option (⌥)
- Caps Lock (⇪)
- Shift (⇧)
- Control (⌃)
- Fn is function, that’s it.
Check out this guide to learn about what’s what on the mac (for windows users)
Depending on the keyboards you use, the modifier keys & other shortcuts might vary. I’m using the magic keyboard right now, and I have multimedia keys for launchpad, app exposè, screen brightness, sound & music controls.
The mac keyboard on the other hand had different keys & with the touch bar, multimedia management was easy.
With that said, let me share the shortcuts that I know & I discovered along the way.
Note: Almost all the keyboard shortcuts are open-ended, that is the sequence of the modifier keys doesn’t matter. For instance, shift+command+N or command+Shift+N is one and the same, on browsers, it will open private windows. Although, I am not sure if this is true for all the shortcuts.
Best keyboard shortcuts for mac
When in the middle of chaos on web pages with dozens of popups, ESC comes out as a savior. Furthermore, you can get right of app layover like that of screenshots menu on the macOS. This happened to me a lot of times, I’d enable screenprint options while unlocking my MacBook with touchID or tapping delete when using the MacBook keyboard. I’d simply tap ESC to undo screenprint options. Highly helpful in chaotic times.
Works with browsers like chrome & finder. Command+W closes the tab of active windows. Option+Command+W closes all the tabs of the active app.
Quick look option to see a quick preview of the files in your local machine or cloud files. Another option for Quicklook is the spacebar. Press Esc to hide the preview.
I don’t know why macOS has command+Y when there’s a spacebar to do the same thing. Good topic of research 🤔
Common shortcut to open the preference menu of almost all apps on macOS. Finding the setting of an app to customize it as per your choice, tap command+, and there you have it. Preferences, right in front of you. This shortcut works better for individual native apps of macOS as well. However, there’s isn’t a shortcut to open system preferences though, that would’ve been good and important.
You should’ve used command+F on mac or Control+F on windows to finding specific text on a webpage or document. This shortcut is a close cousin of command+F. What Command+G does is the same but efficient. With command+F all the mentioned text is highlighted, but with command+G you can navigate through the highlighted text by continuing pressing G.
To minimize any active window of an app, press command+M. Furthermore, Command+option+M will minimize all the windows of the active app.
I personally don’t like minimizing windows. Especially on mac, you can’t get back the windows back on after minimizing a window. You can’t get back those windows even with command+tab, & that’s very annoying.
Add new windows on supported apps. It can be browsers or finder app. Simple & sweet shortcut.
On browsers, this will open a private window. I’ve tested this on Chrome, Opera, Firefox & safari, this keyboard shortcut works well.
On the other hand, this shortcut on the finder app will create a new folder in the selected drive. I didn’t know this until I had to research for this post.
This keyboard shortcut will open the selected file from the finder file (when it’s active) and when the finder isn’t active, this keyboard shortcut will open the dialog box to select a file and open it in that app (if it supports it)
For instance, if you’re running Adobe Photoshop and tapping this keyboard shortcut combination will open the dialog box. You can find the PSD file of any supported file in photoshop and open in photoshop.
Our beloved keyboard shortcut to save a document. It can be a document in photoshop or browsers to save a PDF to your local machine. This is a cute shortcut that hasn’t changed (& shouldn’t change) since our childhood.
Common shortcut across all OS, at least of all the known Operating Systems to print the selected document. Make sure you’ve connected the right printer with the right device.
A lifesaver & the best invention since the computers were made. I can’t remember how many times undo has saved my life. Yes. Command+Z is undo. Oh, by the way, Command+C & V is copy-paste.
Select all is what this keyboard shortcut does. Usually helpful for moving all files from one folder to another. Simple tap command+A and move all the files to the destination folder.
I still can’t figure out the exact application/usecase of this keyboard shortcut. Although this shortcut hides the active window of the app, the app can be restored by command+tab. So there’s some peculiar application behind this shortcut.
This shortcut is exactly the same as command+tab but has different shortcuts keys. I don’t know why🤔
This keyboard shortcut closes an app completely. In macOS nomenclature, it’s called quitting an app. For windows users, it’s equivalent to Alt+F4. Comes in handy when you restart your computer and unwanted apps open along with the restart.
This shortcut comes in handy with the browsers. Directly highlight the URL and quickly copy the URL in three taps. Command+L+C and you have the URL on your clipboard.
On the finder app, this shortcut will toggle between portrait & landscape mode on relevant file formats.
On the finder app, this keyboard shortcut will come in handy to open specific directories. A is for the application directory, H is for home, I is for iCloud, F is for the recent folder, K for the network directory, O is for the documents directory, U is for the Utilities folder & D is for Desktop. Option+Command+L to open a downloads folder
Very useful if you frequently navigate between these apps.
Copy a URL, paste it in any active tab on the browser, tap command+return, and the URL will load in a separate tab. No need for command+T in that case.
Show/hide the path bar in the finder app. Command+J to open viewing options of the folders on your local desktop or cloud folders.
One of the best things about windows was creating shortcuts of the folder for ease of access. You can do that on the mac as well, but the nomenclature is different. What was a shortcut on windows is an alias on mac. Select a folder in the finder app & tap control+command+A to create an alias for quick access, just like it was on windows.
Show/hide toolbar in the finder windows.
I was genuinely missing the cut+paste feature that was in windows on mac, seems you can do that with this keyboard shortcut. However, first, you need to copy the folders or files on the clipboard, then go to the destination folder, then tap Option+Command+V to move the selected files/folder to the destination folder.
Alternatively, hold command while dragging & dropping the files/folders to move files/folders from one place to another.
Could’ve been easier. Command+X maybe? In fact, there’s no default shortcut with this combination. Command+X works well for editors like word doc, Google Docs, sheets, etc, but this shortcut is missing for moving files from one folder to another.
Starts the slideshow of the selected files or all the files in a folder. Peculiarly, this will start a slideshow of folders as well. One good thing about this is it shows the details of the folder, which I think is unnecessary.
In the finder app, there are different ways you can view the icons. Icons, list, columns, & gallery. I like column view as I can navigate through all the folders with arrow keys. It’s just so convenient.
Tap Command+1 for Icons, 2 for the list, 3 for columns & 4 for the gallery to quickly switch between various viewing options as per your convenience.
Navigate to the previously visited folder or the next folder on your mac. This works well on browsers as well. Left bracket for the previous page, right bracket for next page.
Open the containing folder of the selected file or a folder. On browsers, it’s useful to navigate back to the top of the page. Furthermore, use the command+control+Up arrow to open the containing folder of the selected file or folder in a new window.
Open the selected file or folder. This isn’t a preview, this is actually opening the file in the supported apps. No more double click to open. Although there’s command+O to open the selected file I find this shortcut to do the same, handy.
Right/left arrow keys
When in list view (Command+2) in the finder app, the right key will open the folder, and the left key will close it. Furthermore, in the column view (Command+3) right key will take you to the first file/folder inside the selected folder. Left will take you back to the previous folder.
Use this shortcut on the keyboard to show/hide the preview pane in the finder app.
Add the selected folder to the dock on your mac. You can always drag and drop the folder in the dock but why take your hand to the mouse when you can do the same with the keyboard.
Shortcut to something windows is missing. It’s the spotlight feature that helps you find apps and documents on your local and cloud (if synced)
Although Windows has a search feature, it’s not efficient. Furthermore, I use Alfred. A standalone app for macOS which, as the name suggests, is truly Alfred for the Batman in you. It’s way better than a spotlight on mac.
Just like alt+tab in windows, you can switch between apps that are currently open on your Mac. Alternatively, you can use your mouse to scroll through the apps by tapping command+tab, scroll with your mouse scroll wheel while continuing to hold the command key. Not a convenient way, but it’s always good to know.
Furthermore, tap command+tab, hold the command key, and now navigate through the apps by left & right keys.
Like command+tab, use this keyboard shortcut to switch between different windows of the same app, for example, multiple windows of the chrome browser, or the finder app. Although this ‘seems’ easy app management, I find it unnecessary because listing all the windows of all the apps in the command+tab option should’ve been easy.
I still get trapped inside the black hole of command+tab & command+~ while operating at full speed in my workflow. These shortcuts, collectively, still haven’t made it in my workflow, even after two years of daily usage.
Show/Hide the dock. Comes in handy when you need the dock at your disposal. I have left the setting to automatically hide the dock, however, when I need the doc to be present temporarily, this keyboard shortcut comes in handy without changing the original setting.
Fn+left/right arrow (& up/down)
This is useful for web browsers or documents in certain cases. In browsers, you can use this keyboard shortcut to navigate to the top or bottom of a webpage. Left for the top & right for the bottom.
Furthermore, if you want to skim through a webpage without missing out on too many things, you can use Fn with Up/down keys. This will skim through the webpage/document so that you can quickly scan through the page.
This keyboard shortcut is what the ‘delete’ key does on windows, deletes the words/letters in reverse.
This keyboard shortcut is for browsers & finder app. You can navigate through tabs in the same window to find what you’re looking for without touching the mouse.
This is the most used keyboard shortcut that I use when I’m using the browsers like Chrome & Opera. I never use the mouse to shift to a tab unless it’s too far in the queue.
Another shortcut to navigate to the top & bottom of the page. However, this doesn’t work in editors like WordPress. So I’m making it a habit to use Fn+Left/Right to navigate to the top or bottom of the page.
This keyboard shortcut will be helpful for the wordsmiths out there. Most of the time and energy while typing in consumed in deleted wrong words. And deleting one letter at a time is annoying & time-consuming unless you need to delete only one letter.
With command+delete, you can delete the whole line if needed, and with Option+Shift+Delete you can delete one word at a time.
On the finder app, command+delete will move the file/folder to the trash. Shift+Command+delete will empty the trash. Option+shift+Command+Delete will empty the trash without a confirmation dialog box.
This keyboard shortcut is well known, it’s the same in the Windows OS as well. Depending on the maker of your keyboard, you will have different special characters on your keyboard. Hold shift & tap the key with a special character on it, and it will print the special character on the editor you’re using.
Furthermore, if the special character isn’t present on the keyboard, you can always use the emojis panel that comes with the macOS to find those character(s). I have a dedicated shortcut for emojis, press Fn once to show the emojis & special character, press again to hide it. You can customize what the Fn key can do in the keyboard setting under system preferences as shown below:
Show/hide all the windows of the active app. This comes in handy to find that pesky popup you missed to close or simply find the right window you were working on, especially if you have a multiscreen set up at your work desk.
This one’s interesting. Use this shortcut to open a file/folder and close the previous folder. I don’t who else will find this useful but I have a poor habit of ‘not’ closing the windows in the finder app after opening a file I need.
Skip the cursor to the starting of the next/previous word. Right for next, left for previous. Option+Shift+left/right will highlight the text one word at a time. Comes in handy when you need to copy or delete specific words only.
Skip the cursor to the starting or ending of a line. Left for starting, right for ending.
Control+ right/left arrow: Switch between apps in fullscreen mode
For some weird reason, you can’t switch back to full-screen windows of apps that support full-screen mode. For instance, while watching YouTube on chrome in full-screen mode, you will not be able to come back to that window if you switch to another app or another window of the same app with command+tab.
Of course, you can switch to another window of the same app or different app, but can’t switch back to the full-screen tab.
I didn’t discover this keyboard shortcut until recently, and that was an accident. Hold control & tap the right or left key to switch back to the tab in full-screen mode. This shortcut will work only if you’re watching a video in full-screen mode on a browser and want to switch back to that tab.
I have tested this keyboard shortcut for all apps in full-screen mode, it does exactly what command+tab does. However, you can’t switch to another window of the same tab (even with command+~).
The best thing about macOS is native support for emojis. Windows still don’t have it. Simply tap contol+command+spacebar to enable the emojis panel.
I discovered this keyboard shortcut while writing this post. With this you can switch between various keyboard input methods available on your mac, this included specific languages as well. Continue pressing the spacebar to switch between input methods.
Full-screen mode is particularly helpful in certain situations when you’re deeply focused in your work and don’t want to get distracted. Maybe you’re writing an ebook that needs your focus, simply tap control+command+F to get into full-screen mode on Mac. Tap the same keyboard shortcut to exit the full-screen mode.
This enables, what we know as the task manager of macOS. If you’re stuck in the middle of a frozen app, simply tap option+command+esc to enable the task manager to force quit the frozen apps.
I really miss windows+L on mac. Locking my mac shouldn’t have been this long. If you’re okay with this shortcut, this will lock your mac. However, I’m using hot corners to lock my mac. With hot corners, you can take your mouse to either of the four corners to perform certain actions. Even though those are limited, but it’s enough.
To avoid accidentally locking my mac while running around with my mouse, I’ve used command in the combination to lock my mac. That is, the shortcuts in the hot corners will only be activated if I hold the command and take the mouse cursor to one of the corners. Here’s what each of my corners has the task to perform.
Open new tabs in browsers & finder app. It’s simple & cute.
This shortcut has saved my day several times. With this keyboard shortcut, you can reopen the accidentally closed tabs in browsers. However, if you’ve closed the tab containing unsaved work, you will get the data only of the saved work. Although there are provisions to restore the unsaved work, depending on the app you’re using. Like in the case of Google docs, it saves the content in real-time.
There’s little to no chance that you close the tab containing the google doc before it could be saved in the cloud unless your mac goes offline and you close the tab at the same time, which is least likely to happen.
Depending on the apps you’re using, the result of command+I would vary. In the finder app, this keyboard shortcut will open the dialog box containing the details of the selected file. However, if you’re using Google Docs, word, or editors like wordpress this will italicize the selected text.
The standard keyboard shortcut for zoom in zoom out. In most apps, this shortcut is dedicated to the zoom feature. However, in certain apps like Excel or Google sheets, Command+ plus/minus will add or remove selected columns or rows.
This is the default in excel but in Google sheet, you will have to configure these shortcuts to enable certain standard keyboard shortcuts.
This keyboard shortcut is applicable to any app that has zoom-in, zoom-out features. Command+0 will bring the page to default zoom size. I keep zoom to 110% on chrome & 150% on google sheets (and all doc apps), pressing command+0 will bring the zoom percentage to that default.
Duplicate selected files in the local desktop and/or cloud.
Quickly refresh web pages on browsers. Unlike windows, there isn’t a dedicated shortcut for a hard refresh.
Hover over the link & press the scroll wheel to open the link in the new tab. This works only for all major browsers. I’ve tested these on chrome, opera, firefox & safari.
Command+Shift+left/right arrow key
Highlight the whole line to either delete or copy it. This comes in handy for bloggers who’re continuously creating amazing content for their blogs. Or maybe you’re a student and get to work with a lot of assignments.
Use shift+command+up/down arrow keys to highlight lines above/below.
Use the Option+Shift+Up arrow to select & highlight the text from the cursor location to the beginning of the paragraph. Press down the arrow key to select & highlight to the bottom of the paragraph.
Move the cursor to the end of the line or paragraph. A to move to the beginning of the line or paragraph
Swap the characters before the cursor with the character that’s after the cursor. Comes in handy when you need to change a few characters.
Copy the selected text along with the formatting. Option+Command+V to paste with the formating.
If you’ve simply copied the content with/without and want to paste matching the content around, press option+shift+command+V
Open the inspector window while in the finder app. It will give you all the details about the selected file/folder.
Open the help menu of the active app.
Open the page setup dialog box in supported apps like word, excel, etc. This comes in handy to set up the document before you print it.
Spacebar or (Shift+Spacebar)
Based on the app you’re using, the function of the spacebar will change. In all major browsers, (tested on chrome and safari) tapping on the spacebar will scroll the webpage frame by frame down or up depending on the arrow keys you tap.
Furthermore, pressing just down or up arrows will scroll the page by few pixels, so that you can read webpages without scrolling with a mouse.
In the finder app, the spacebar will give you a quick look at the selected items. This will not open the respective app, but just a quick look/preview.
Touchbar tips for macOS
Tip #1: Take screenshots of your touch bar by tapping shift+command+6. Interesting part? I still I can’t figure out the application of this keyboard shortcut but definitely a good thing to know if you own a MacBook pro.
Tip #2: You can customize the control strip to have the most used options at the disposal of your fingers. I have kept Dictation, screenshot menu, screensaver, & airplay in my touch bar since those are the most used shortcuts in my day-to-day life.
To customize your touch bar as per your need go to Apple menu > System Preferences, click Keyboard, then click on customize control strip as shown in the image below.
You can customize the control strip as per your preference, I keep few most used shortcuts and in the expanded menu of the control strip, I can even more shortcuts that come in handy in times of need.
Check out this guide on the touch bar to learn more. I will create a separate post on customizing the touch bar & control strip to help you make the most out of your MacBook.
Lastly, I use this tool to quickly peep into all the shortcuts I have on my mac. It’s free!
Related: Switching from Windows? Here are some tips for beginners of macOS
I will keep updating this post as and when I discover more keyboard shortcuts on my MacBook. If you find this post useful, feel free to bookmark it. I’m coming up with a cheat sheet where all these shortcuts will be listed in a tabular format.
I’ll announce that on the social handles. Make sure you keep in touch. Follow Smarter World on Twitter, Instagram & Facebook for more fun updates.