The Command (cmd) key steals the limelight on your Mac’s keyboard, but it’s the Option (or alt) key that is the real hero. It works behind the scenes, providing you with fast access to a variety of functions and actions — and you probably never realised.
Here are 20 tasks you can take care of with the help of this one single key.
Cut and Paste Files
On OS X, moving files involves either copy-pasting them or dragging and dropping them into the right folders. Cut-pasting is not supported, or so it seems.
To get a cut-paste function on your Mac, copy the file as usual with Cmd + C, but while pasting it, using Cmd + Option + V instead of Cmd + V. This moves the file instead of creating a duplicate.
You can see how this works from the menu bar. After you copy a file, open the Edit menu and hold down Option. You’ll see that the Paste option changes to Move Item Here, which is equivalent to cut-paste.
Delete Files Without Moving Them to Trash First
When you delete files on OS X, they end up in the Trash folder by default. It’s a pain having to empty the trash to get rid of deleted files for good every time.
Fortunately, you can force files to be deleted immediately i.e. without moving them to the trash first. Here are a couple of ways to do that, and they both involve the Option key!
- If you use the keyboard shortcut Cmd + Delete to delete files, hit Cmd + Option + Delete instead.
- If you delete files via Finder’s File menu, press Option with the menu open. You’ll then get a Delete Immediately… option in place of the usual Move to Trash.
Clear History and Keep Website Data in Safari
Clearing browser history is a great way to speed up your browser, but it’s annoying to lose your cookies and website preferences when you do that.
Did you know that Safari allows you to get rid of just the browsing history? Well, it does. Simply hold down Option when you have the History menu open, and ta-da! There’s that Clear History and Keep Website Data… option right at the bottom of the menu.
There are occasions when you need to relaunch your Mac’s file explorer. For example, after you have run a Terminal command to display hidden files, you have to relaunch Finder to make the hidden files show up.
Here’s the easiest way to restart Finder. Ctrl + Option + Click on Finder’s icon in the dock to open its context menu. Then click on the Relaunch option from the menu.
Note: You won’t see Relaunch if you bring up the context menu using just the Ctrl key or if you press Option after the menu is already open.
Copy the Pathname of a File or Folder
Want to paste the location of a file in another program? No problem. Navigate to that file in Finder, bring up its context menu, and hold Option. You’ll then see a Copy “filename” as Pathname link in place of the usual Copy “filename” option.
Access the User Library
The user library holds user-specific data and preferences, but you don’t need to access it often. When you do need to poke around in that folder, remember that this is the quickest way to get to it:
- Launch Finder and click on Go in the menu bar.
- Press Option to reveal the Library link in the menu.
- Click on Library.
Toggle Do Not Disturb Mode in Notification Center
Do you want to activate the Do Not Disturb mode to stop notifications from distracting you?
Sure, you can open up the Notification Center, scroll up, and move the Do Not Disturb slider to right. But, there’s another way that’s super fast. Simply hold down the Option key and click on the Notification Center’s menu bar icon. Repeat the action to toggle off the Do Not Disturb mode.
You can quickly turn on do not disturb on Mac by option clicking the notifications icon. I learn new things every day
— T. Austin Shoecraft (@Craftyshoe) February 4, 2015
Change the Default Application for Any File Type
Imagine you want to change the default application used to open files of a particular type. To do that, right-click on any file of that type in Finder, and once the context menu pops up, hold down the Option key. You should now see Always Open With instead of Open With in the menu. Click on the former to change the application linked with it.
Alternatively, you can access the Always Open With option by pressing the Option key when you have the File menu open for a selected file.
Save File As
Duplicate and Export are useful options when you want to make a copy of a file or change its format. But “saving file as…” feels like a more intuitive way of doing either of those tasks.
It’s a pity the Save File As option is hidden by default. To get to it, when you have opened up a file, visit the File menu and press Option. You’ll find that the Duplicate option changes to Save As…
Control Volume and Brightness in Smaller Increments
If you want finer control over volume levels or screen brightness, here’s a neat trick. Hold down Shift + Option when you’re pressing the special keys assigned to brightness or volume. This lets you modify the levels in smaller increments.
Type Special Characters
Typing special characters and symbols can be a lot quicker if you bring in the Option key. For example, if you want to type the Trademark (™) symbol, you just have to press Option + 2. For the Copyright (©) symbol, press Option + G. Cool, right?
To figure out which keys correspond to which symbols, keep Keyboard Viewer handy. Here’s how you can do that.
In System Preferences > Keyboard, under the Keyboard tab, select the checkbox next to Show Keyboard, Emoji, & Symbol viewers in the menu bar. You’ll find a new icon pop up in the menu bar. When you click on it and select Show Keyboard Viewer in the next dropdown, an onscreen keyboard appears.
With this keyboard active, hold down the Option key. This action replaces the existing set of keys with a set of special characters. Use Keyboard Viewer to find the keys that correspond to your most commonly used symbols and memorize them. Press Option + Shift to reveal yet another set of special characters.
Expand Nested Folders in a Single Click (List View)
The List view in Finder is handy, but having to expand nested folders one level at a time is tedious. If you want to reveal all nested elements in one go, press Option when you’re clicking on the tiny arrow next to the outermost folder in the hierarchy.
Skip Copying a Duplicate File
When you’re moving a bunch of files from one folder to another and the system encounters duplicates, a Keep Both, Stop or Replace dialog pops up.
What if you don’t want to keep both files or replace one with the other? Clicking Stop to cancel the entire operation seems like the only option left, right? Not so. Press the Option key to reveal this fourth option: Skip, to omit just that specific file from getting copied.
Deselect Items in Finder
If Cmd + A selects all files or folders in one go, Cmd + Option + A deselects them all.
Do note that unlike Select All, Deselect All does not work outside of Finder. So if you select all the text in a PDF using Cmd + A, you won’t be able to deselect it using Cmd + Option + A.
Hide All Other Windows and Force Quit Apps
When you want to bring a particular window to the front and hide the rest, try this. Bring up the app’s context menu in the dock and press Option. Now choose the Hide Others option that appears in the menu. This trick also reveals a Force Quit option.
Open Function Preferences
The Function (Fn) keys allow you to tweak various settings like screen brightness, keyboard illumination, and volume. To make further tweaks related to a specific function, you need to go into System Preferences and find the corresponding dialog. Get there faster by using the Option key with any Fn key combo.
For example, if you press F3 for Mission Control, press Option + F3 to go straight to Mission Control’s preferences dialog.
Get Detailed WiFi Information
You know that clicking on the WiFi icon in the menu bar reveals the network you’re connected to and a list of other networks in range. But do you know what appears when you Option + Click the icon? Detailed information about your network, right from the IP address to the BSSID. You also get a link to Wireless Diagnostics.
— Noppanit (Toy) (@noppanit) December 24, 2014
Note: This trick doesn’t work if you press Option after you have opened the WiFi dropdown. You have to do it before you click on the WiFi icon.
Skip Quick Look and Start a Slideshow
The Quick Look feature is a neat way to preview files without actually opening them up. You select one or more files, hit the spacebar, and a Quick Look window pops out, allowing you to skim through those files.
To start a slideshow, you can go full screen in Quick Look, but a quicker way would be to press Option + spacebar in Finder. This bypasses Quick Look and starts the slideshow directly.
You can also swap out Quick Look for Slideshow via the context menu or the File menu by holding down the Option key.
Get Quick Access to Dropbox Settings
Clicking the Dropbox icon in the menu bar displays the most recent files synced, with a tiny gear icon at the bottom right to access Dropbox settings. If you’d like to see the Dropbox settings appear in the dropdown directly, press Option while clicking on the Dropbox menu bar icon.
Bypass Confirmation Dialogs
The Are you sure you want to… dialogs you see when you click Restart, Shut Down, or Log Out are timely prompts to remind you to save your work and pay attention to what you’re doing. But sometimes they can be annoying.
If you want to get rid of them on a case by case basis, press Option while clicking on any of those commands in the menu and the system will restart, shut down or log out without displaying the corresponding confirmation dialog.
How to Make the Option Key More Convenient to Use
We hope you’ll be using the Option key a whole lot more after reading this article. If you think the key’s default location makes it inconvenient to use, we suggest you turn the less used Caps Lock key into a replacement for Option. To do that:
- Go to System Preferences > Keyboard
- Under the Keyboard tab, click on Modifier Keys…
- In the dialog that pops up, look for Caps Lock Key, and in the dropdown next to it, select Option
- Click OK to save your preferences
Now you’re all set to use Caps Lock as an extra Option key.
Transform Your Mac Workflow with One Key
We have just scratched the surface of the Option key’s capabilities. There’s more it can do within specific applications. Try adding the key to your usual keyboard shortcuts and menu bar options to discover more hidden options. We’re sure you’ll be delighted by what you discover.
When you can't remember how to do something in a Mac's UI… try holding down option or option-click. Hides some useful stuff…
— Rob Ballou (@rob_ballou) September 29, 2015
Which other Option key secrets do you know of? Give us your best tricks in the comments!