Top 10 Mac keyboard shortcuts everyone should know

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Using these simple keyboard tricks will make your life so much better. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
Using these simple keyboard tricks will make your life so much better.
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Mastering a few crucial Mac keyboard shortcuts will make using your Apple computer easier and much more efficient. Cutting your reliance on your mouse will help you work more quickly, and you’ll undoubtedly impress your family, friends and co-workers to no end. You might even end up becoming the go-to Mac person in your office, and we all know how wonderful that will be.

Here are the top 10 Mac keyboard shortcut tricks you really need to memorize right now, whether you’re a Mac newbie or a veteran user who still uses the mouse for everything out of habit.

Top 10 Mac keyboard shortcuts

Ingredients:

  • Any Mac running OS X
  • Mac-compatible keyboard (has a Command key, not Windows)

Directions:

First up, take a look at the Mac keyboard in front of you to familiarize yourself with a few Mac-specific keys. The Command key has a special symbol (⌘) to help you recognize it, while the Option key can also say “alt” on it, a term borrowed from a Windows environment. Your keyboard may also have a Function key (fn) next to the Control key (which just bears its own name — “control”).

Many of these shortcuts have an equivalent menu item you’ll find at the top of your Mac’s screen. One way of finding new shortcuts is to look to the right of any menu item and see if a keyboard shortcut is listed.

Now that you’ve got a good idea of where to find these keys, let’s take a look at some great ways to use them. (In addition to writing out the instructions, we’ve also created a pair of videos to walk you through them in case you prefer to learn that way. You’ll find them at the bottom of this post.)

Quit any Mac program

Command-Q: If you’re coming from a Windows computer, you might have gotten used to “X-ing out” of your applications by clicking on the X button at the top of any application window. In OS X, you close windows with the red X button (in the upper left of your window), but it will not quit the app. To fully exit out of any Mac program in OS X, you’ll need to use the Quit command with this shortcut, or click on the app menu, then choose Quit.

Close Mac windows quickly

Command-W, Option-Command-W: The first of these will close whatever active window you are using, while the second one will close all the windows in the currently active app (or Finder, which is also an app, really). These shortcuts will do the same thing as the Close Window option in the Finder and most other apps. Chrome, for example, delineates between Close Window (Command-W) and Close Tab (Command-Shift-W).

Open a new web browser tab on Mac

Command-T: Whether you’re in a web browser like Safari or Chrome or in the Finder itself, this keyboard shortcut will open a new tab for you. In Chrome, Command-Shift-T will open the most recently closed tab for you. Keep hitting this shortcut to open multiple tabs (or continue opening tabs in reverse chronological order in Chrome).

Quickly switch between Mac applications

The application switcher is just a keystroke away. Photo: Rob LeFebvre
The application switcher is just a keystroke away. Photo: Rob LeFebvre

Command-Tab, Command-~ : The first of these shortcuts will activate Mac OS X’s built-in application switcher, which will let you switch between active apps running on your Mac. Keep holding down the Command key and press Tab repeatedly to go to the next app from left to right. Use Command-~ (tilde, usually above the Tab key) to switch to running apps from right to left. Holding down the Command key and hitting Q will quit whatever program you are currently highlighting.

Cut, copy and paste on Mac

Command-X, Command-C, Command-V: These are three of the things I do most often in my writing life, so mousing up to the Edit menu in an app to choose these functions from a menu makes me cringe. Learn these three essential shortcuts (Command-X for cut, Command-C for copy and Command-V for paste — go figure), and you’ll save a ton of time every day.

Find something fast on your Mac

Command-F: Search is a massive part of any computer user’s workflow, from finding the right document to looking for a key word or phrase in Safari. To find something in the Finder, Safari or Chrome, or in a Pages or Word document, simply hit the Command-F key combination and a little window will show up where you can type in your search terms. Boom — you’ll find what you need.

Take Mac screenshots

Command-Shift-3, Command-Shift-4: Screenshots are a way of life in my daily work, and I’m willing to bet you’ve needed to take a quick capture of your screen at some point. Command-Shift-3 will take a picture of your entire Mac’s screen, from the upper left to the bottom right. Command-Shift-4 will turn your mouse cursor into a set of crosshairs (not unlike a sniper rifle sight) that you can then click and drag around any portion of your screen to capture only the relevant area. Pro tip: Tap the spacebar once to take a screenshot of a specific window, or hold the spacebar to move the selected area around without changing its dimensions.

Open Mac Finder folders

Get to your most often used folders with this shortcut. Photo: Rob LeFebvre
Get to your most-often-used folders with this shortcut. Photo: Rob LeFebvre

Command-Shift-A, Command-Shift-U, Command-Shift-D, Command-Shift-H: In the Finder, you’ll need to navigate to any number of common folders: Applications, Utilities, Desktop, and Home. Simply hit the Command key and then the first letter of each of these to go directly to them: Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.

Force quit a Mac app

Command-Option-Esc: If an app stops responding, you might need to force it to quit. You can do that with a right-click on the app icon in the Dock, but it’s even easier if you hit this keyboard shortcut. This will bring up the Force Quit dialog, which you can then use to kill that unresponsive app. You might need to Command-Tab your way out of an active frozen app first, or use Command + Shift + Option + Esc to quit the currently active app.

Hide Mac apps

Command-H, Command-Option-H: Doing something at work you shouldn’t be when your boss walks by? Whoops! It’s an easy fix to hit Command-H on your keyboard to hide the current active app. If you just need to declutter your view, Command-Option-H will hide all the other apps in the background, letting you focus on the one in front.

See top Mac keyboard shortcuts in action

The Cult of Mac how-to videos below will walk you through these shortcuts if you prefer to watch rather than read. We’ve broken up the top 10 into two easy parts. Here are the first five Mac keyboard shortcuts …

And here are five more:

Deals of the Day

  • Andre Louis

    Thanks for this list, I knew most of them being a VoiceOver user, but trying to teach my sighted wife how to use my MacBook (sans VoiceOver) is proving somewhat difficult. I don’t know how to explain for example, the best way to get to the menus, or the dock, or how to maximize windows. I come from a purely Windows background but have been using OSX for the last year. She uses my machine so rarely but when she does, she’s always frustrated as am I. Hopefully this will help her some.
    That having been said, if I’m not mistaken, you can get to the menu bar with CTRL+F2 and the sounds control panel with Option+Media keys (F10 F11 F12) which may be useful in some situations.

    • Rob LeFebvre

      Yes – great additions, thanks!

  • Philip Piasecki

    Great list! I would add Command+Space Bar to open up Spotlight. That’s made my life 1000% easier.

    • Nathan

      I’m actually quite surprised that this one wasn’t on the list.

    • On my computers, command-space switches between the input languages and keyboard layouts.

  • Anonymous

    Only ones I didn’t know we’re the common folders shortcut and Command-Shift-H (jeez I hated having to manually do that). Thanks!

  • arvin gulacha

    already knew all of this

    • Faslane

      but helpful to many others.

      • arvin gulacha

        whatever

      • ToastyFlake

        You’re a ray of sunshine.

      • Faslane

        no need to be a dick. This post isn’t for those who KNOW this stuff. I’ve been doing this 20 years but still nice to see them helping others.

      • Faslane

        Well educated reply brah!

    • lee scott

      You’re just AWESOME, arvin. Now, for you – COMMAND-X

      • arvin gulacha

        command m minimizes ur tab

      • lee scott

        No moron, it minimizes your WINDOW. Now go back and have mommy make you a grilled cheese before Spongebob starts…

      • Rob LeFebvre

        Oh, come on. Be nice. :)

      • lee scott

        I was :) I helped him.

  • Chris Russell

    I love keyboard shortcuts! You don’t have to have a Mac keyboard though. If you are unfortunate enough to have to use a Windows keyboard, the Windows key works just like the ⌘ on a Mac keyboard.

    • Joe

      you can swap functions on those keys in “keyboard preferences”

  • Faslane

    Great list, I’d add Command “delete” to it after selecting anything you wanna toss out to the trash and then Command Shift delete to empty it. If you handle lots of files or after backing up etc it’s a great shortcut for tossing stuff instead of dragging, using the menus etc.

    • observer1959

      That’s the one I was going to mention. I use it daily. Want to clean out a folder? Do a select all Command+A then then send to trash with this.

      • Faslane

        Yep. Many variants depending on what you’re deleting. +1

  • Nathan

    I knew about the majority of these but had no idea about the Command-H shortcut. Won’t really come in too handy now that I live on my own, but neat nonetheless.

  • Nigel Pearson

    Command-Tab cycles between active apps (left to right), but Command-~ goes between windows in an app (at least for me). The action you mention (apps right to left) is Command-Shift-Tab

    • Rob LeFebvre

      Good catch – they both do the same thing on my keyboard, but it’s nice to get rid of the Shit key in the sequence. Thanks!

  • dcj001

    Here is another Command-Shift-3 and Command-Shift-4 pro tip:

    If you include the Control key with any of the Command-Shift-3 and Command-Shift-4 keyboard combinations, the screenshot will be saved to the clipboard so that you may paste it into the application windows.

  • Barbara Montgomery McKeel

    What about Command P to print in every application I have ever used. It will not print in the Finder because there is nothing to print. Also Command N for a new finder window or for a new window in an application.

    • Brassman

      In the old days Command-N would create a new folder in the finder. I think it might have changed with the introduction of OS X, but it still trips me up. New folder is Command-Shift-N.

  • Henryb65

    One I found recently and now use a lot is Cmd-Z Undo your last move! ( OK mistake) Like trash the wrong file or something. Delete something etc. And yes I was going to say surprised that you left out Cmd-space, which is very useful too. Great list though. Thanks.

  • Dean

    You forgot the easiest and most useful shortcut of all….the space bar. It show a preview of and file, photo or video and starts and stops the playback of movies and other videos. Best shortcut of all.

  • Stephen Pampell

    Command-W, Option-Command-W – The first of these will close whatever active window you are using, while the second one will close all the windows in the currently active app (or Finder, which is also an app, really). These shortcuts will do the same thing as the Close Window option in the Finder and most other apps. Chrome, for example, delineates between Close Window (Command-W) and Close Tab (Command-Shift-W).

    Actually, Command+W in Chrome closes the current tab and Command+Shift+W closes the window.

  • HowmaNoid

    Missed one of the best ones. Fn+DELETE is a forward delete in any text edit box.

  • Brendan Hawkins

    Ingredients:
    Any Mac running OS X
    Mac-compatible keyboard (has a Command key, not Windows)

    This is incorrect, halfway. The Windows keyboards’ logo key is recognized by the Mac as the Command key.

  • Sas du Plessis

    Thanks, these are useful! I am having a hard time migrating from a lifelong use of windows to Mac. I am having especially hard times with Windows Explorer and the ease of navigation through that I was used to. To quickly sort files or directories to be displaye alphabetically (A to Z) or its invers – Z to A, or changing the view to be sorted vfrom most recent edited etc. This is really a headache for me. If any of you guys can help an old Windows fart like myself by pointing me in the direction of more instructionals to help understand and operate the FInder app from Mac as easy and quickly as we all are used to operate the Explorer bar from Windows.
    One laste thing: On these Mac Shortcuts provided, one that I also use a lot (also in my Windows days) is Command + T (⌘T) to open more tabs. But to close any open tabs just as quickly, press Command + W (⌘W).
    There’s my contribution now as well!