12 Mac Keyboard Shortcuts for Power Users

12 Mac Keyboard Power User Shortcuts

There have been a few really comprehensive cheat sheets on MTE in the past regarding keyboard shortcuts, but they are usually lists of commands and a brief explanation of what they do.

In this article we compiled the essentials and the ones which you need to work fast and efficiently on the Mac. It’s a shorter, targeted list and much easier to remember.

1. Cut Copy Paste (Command-x, Command -c, Command-v)

Okay let’s get the basics out of the way first. You should use these all the time. On the Mac you can select text and copy it in a wide range of circumstances, sometimes even alert boxes and other system text. Try it and see. Make use of copy and paste when you need to insert anything multiple times. A good use is when you have to log in to a site and can’t recall your password. If your user ID is reset each time, you can save time by pasting it into the field for each try.

2. Force Quit the current app (Command-Shift-Option-Esc)

Without waiting for Force Quit to become available as an option on the Dock Icon of your stuck program, you can force the issue with “Command + Shift + Option + Esc” with the app selected.

3. Choose to Force Quit from a list of currently running apps (Command-Option-Esc)

If everything is gummed up and multiple apps are not responding, you can sometimes clear it all up by bringing up a list of all running apps and force quitting those that are stuck. Select the app with the mouse and click “Force Quit.”

Force Quit from a list of currently running apps.

4. Taking Screenshots (Command-Shift-3 or 4 and Space)

You probably know about “Command + Shift + 3” for taking a snapshot of the current screen. But what about “Command + Shift + 4” where you can select an area of the screen? Another lesser known extension to this is “Command + Shift + 4” then letting go of the keys and pressing Space. This allows you to select a window from the current desktop. As you hover over the windows, they darken. Click the mouse button to capture just the window. The cool part of the capture is a transparent PNG including the drop shadow. (See above capture of Force Quit list with no background.)

5. Copy an item while dragging (Option)

If you drag a file from one window to another, and it’s on the same drive, it will move it from one place to another. If you want to copy it instead, then hold the “Option” key while dragging.

Copy an item while dragging.

6. Move an item while dragging (Command)

Similarly, if you drag an item from one drive to another, it will make a copy. If you want to move it instead, then hold “Command” while dragging.

7. Eject a device or a Disk image (Command-E)

Don’t bother dragging the icon to the Trash or using “Right-Click -> Eject” when you want to eject; simply click on the Disk icon and press “Command + E” to eject any mounted device or drive.

8. Emojis (Command-Control-Space)

In a number of different applications and websites that support them (Like Facebook), the Emoji emoticon extensions are built into OS X. Just press “Command + Control + Space” to bring up the menu and select your Emojis.

Emojis on Mac.

9. Boot from external media (Hold C on startup)

Holding down the “C” key on startup enables you to boot from any external device, an external drive, DVD drive, or even a thumb drive.

10. iOS style easy accent selection (Hold down a letter)

It’s such a pain to add accents to typing, having to remember (or worse still look up) or cut and paste an accent, like é or å or ç. It’s much easier to hold down the key for a few seconds. In most OS X applications and text fields on web pages, you will get a popup menu. Either select with the cursor keys or press the number under the letter you want to type and voilá!

iOS style easy accent selection.

This feature doesn’t work in Google Docs or other types of web applications that take over the keyboard, which is a real shame.

Note: The problem with this feature is that in the versions of OS X which support it, key repeat has been effectively disabled. You can disable it using terminal if you need to type multiple exclamation points all the time.


11. Close a window (Command-W)

We all know “Command + Q” is a way to quit out of a program, but a much more versatile command is “Command + W”. This will close the currently selected window and this works on Finder windows and even file windows open within an application like Photoshop. Quit the window but keep the app open.

12. Move Between and even close active programs (Command-Tab)

This is a command you should use every day to manage which programs you have running. Press “Command” and tap the “Tab” key; a row of icons will pop up in the middle of the screen. Tap Tab to jump to the next icon. Release the keys and you will switch focus to that program. Or you can use the mouse to select a program. If you press “Q” while holding on a certain icon that program will quit.

Move between and close active programs.

What are the keyboard shortcuts you use the most in your day? Let us know in the comments below.

Phil South Phil South

Phil South has been writing about tech subjects for over 30 years. Starting out with Your Sinclair magazine in the 80s, and then MacUser and Computer Shopper. He's designed user interfaces for groundbreaking music software, been the technical editor on film making and visual effects books for Elsevier, and helped create the MTE YouTube Channel. He lives and works in South Wales, UK.