Apple Keyboard Symbols

This may seem like a simple or even obvious post. But, I have friends who have recently switched to the Mac and they don’t always know what the icons represent in the menus for keyboard shortcuts. I did some searching and couldn’t really find anybody explaining what the icons represent. I thought that was a bit odd so I wanted to get something out there for those few Mac newbies (or maybe even the veterans that still don’t know).

The icons I’m talking about look like this: Mac OS X Keyboard Shortcut Icons Keyboard Modifier icons

Now, I’ll explain each quickly:

Command Modifier icon Mac OS X Apple-Command Key Icon -This is the Apple or Command key icon. It’s the only key that actually has the icon right on it (at least on newer Mac keyboards). It’s usually referred to as the Command key, or for short, “cmd”.

Option Modifier icon Mac OS X Alt-Option key Icon- This is the Alt or Option key icon. Most keyboard shortcuts reference it as Option instead of Alt though. The common abbreviation is simply “opt”.

Control Modifier icon Mac OS X Control Key Icon- This is the Control key icon. This key is used widely on PC and Mac, so most people should know the key. It’s also the key that is used in most shortcuts on Windows computers in place of the Command key on the Mac (Control+C on Windows equals Command+C for copy on the Mac) . It’s common abbreviation is “ctl”.

Shift Modifier icon Mac OS X Shift Key Icon- And finally, the Shift key icon. Second to the Command key, this one is also pretty obvious. It’s rarely ever abbreviated in shortcuts.

UPDATE : The esc key modifier looks like this. esc Modifier Key.png


  1. Scott Fannen

    Some keys are far from obvious even for expert users.

    Apple don’t seem to have a font character for the Esc key. So when you need to type Esc, the command in the menu shows up something like the symbol for male gone wrong (see the Force Quit option in the Apple menu).

    I only noticed this when I wanted to try the Complete option in TextEdit (in the Edit menu) and wondered what on earth that key was supposed to be. It’s the Esc key.

    I’ve also found both Mac and PC newbies have problems with the Tab key (left pointing arrow running into a wall) – even people who used to use typewriters don’t know what you’re talking about – which makes hitting Alt/Option-Tab a hassle to explain.

    Scott 🙂

  2. Matt

    Thanks for the links Jeff

  3. sachin

    i want to know about all mathmatical symbols in excel and word.

  4. Keith

    Is there a font that contains the Mac Keyboard Symbols? If so what font? If not is there a combination of keys that will input them into a text editor for writing documentation?

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  6. Matt

    Very nice site. thanks for the links

  7. Blair

    I’m a recent Mac convert so powering up my new iMac, installing software and working with my photographs was a wee bit challenging but very enjoyable. I wanted to say thank you for describing which symbols are associated with which keyboard key. For some this may seem a small thing but for a person like myself it is a HUGE help and reduces my frustration level in a big way.

    Again, thank you,

  8. Gary H

    Obvious? Are you kidding?! I’ve been glued to Macs for almost 30 years, and it took this article to finally, FINALLY show me what some of these crazy symbols mean. I don’t think they are obvious (or intuitive) at all. And BTW the new ‘escape’ symbol looks an AWFUL LOT like ‘power’ to me. Thanks for the info!

  9. Simone

    I finally wrote the symbol equivalents on my keyboard after years of frustration in trying to remember which was control & which was option. Now my newly-Mac brother can have this easy reference. Thanks!

  10. Jennifer

    Thanks for the info. I really appreciate it!

  11. ####me!

    Thank you very much – I kept seeing the ESC symbol on shortcuts, but had to give up on trying it when I couldn’t find it anywhere on the keyboard.
    I really can’t believe a genuine Apple keyboard does not actually show the symbols for ESC or # !!!!
    (in case you’re also looking, # hash is ALT-3)
    I thought Macs were supposed to be user friendly ? 🙁

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  13. V

    AWESOME! Thank you. How long ago did you post this and it continues to help people?

  14. MacNewbie

    Really appreciate it. Thanks for sharing..

  15. PCtoMac

    Great article, and exactly what I was looking for. Thanks!

  16. Alberto Vignuzzi

    New to Apple. I like my iMac and getting used to it. Some symbols meaning were frustrating, thank you for your help. regards

  17. Melissa

    Hey! Thanks so so so much for this! I’ve grown up with Macs (young person here :L) and I knew all the symbols mentioned except for option and escape. Thanks so much for clearing this up! 🙂

  18. Jack

    AH! THANK you for this!

  19. MAC0123

    How do I make a Diamond symbol icon on my keyboard? 😉

  20. MAC0123

    Any links for some Mac symbol keyboard?

  21. MAC0123

    Want to make a symbol? Here are some here ♫ alt+1+4 and alt+1+3 ♪ 🙂 😉 😐

  22. Pyno

    Thanks for this… FYI, might want to add the backspace key, as it may not be immediately clear to new mac users what that is also.

  23. remi stevens

    Great Post! I use an international mac daily. My keyboard has 15 different types of arrows on it strewn across 13 keys- i always forget what things are…I’ll also never understand why alt/option and apple/command need two names! Mac needlessly over-complicates the simplest things.

  24. Alicia M B Ballard

    could you please let me know what this symbol stands for?


    thank you?

  25. traci godfrey

    how do i make a “registered trademark” symbol?

  26. Nikolaj

    The “registered trademark” symbol is ALT + 6.

  27. Thatzlife

    Thank YOU SO MUCH! And why do you say they are obvious????
    I hate that Mac has parts on its help sections where they use those symbols and you look down at your keyboard and NONE OF THOSE SYMBOLS except for the ‘command’ symbol is even there!
    Im like what the hell?! why would they do this???
    So thank you. But its beyond me why these symbols are not on the keyboard, but referred to in every magazine as if they ARE on the keyboard!

  28. anonymous

    The phrase I used to find your site, “What the fuck are the keys for the mac symbols”

    PS Thanks

  29. anonymous

    PS Why don’t they show this to people when they first run OSX? and then give them a way to find it again?

  30. anonymous

    And why don’t they put them on the keyboards where they belong?

  31. Mike

    It may have other uses I’m not aware of, but the symbol “§” (Opt+6) means SECTION in the legal field, such as “Municipal Code §253.” Sometimes there are two of them together which makes it plural, such as “Municipal Code §§ 253 and 256.”

  32. Gus

    Not that I’m a new mac user, but I cannot find the shourtcut for the | symbol and it is driving me mad!!

  33. aa

    Thank you much for the clarification.
    Whoever made these meaningless symbols should hang.

  34. mark

    Shift ? Obvious ? Wow…I thought it was the Up arrow. Great page!

  35. Anthony

    lol… The phrase I used to land here was… “what the fuck are the mac symbols”. Thank you 🙂

  36. julius

    thanks man for the info, very helpful for a newbie like me.

  37. Joan

    It’s 2013, (as of today!) and I was still being frustrated by these oft-used, never explained symbols. THANK YOU for keeping this site live!

  38. Stef

    THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  39. Larry

    There is no such thing as a stupid question. Who knew! Thanks!

  40. merryly

    I have a non retentive memory for occasionally used symbols. Have made and list but wish there was a Mac official plan I could constantlu refer to
    What does


    stand for

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