20 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do with the Mac Option Key

Akshata Shanbhag 27-10-2015

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 What Can You Do To Speed Up Your Browser? If you’re like me and you spend a huge portion of your day browsing the web then you understand how frustrating it is to have a slow, bloated browser that seems to be on its... Read More , 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.


Relaunch Finder

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 Hide & Find Any File On Mac OS X There's no straightforward way to quickly hide or reveal hidden files on Mac OS X as there is on Windows – but it is possible. Read More , 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 How To Access The OS X Library Folder & Why It's Handy Most OS X Library folders are best left alone, but it's useful to know your way in and around the User Library. Read More 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:

  1. Launch Finder and click on Go in the menu bar.
  2. Press Option to reveal the Library link in the menu.
  3. Click on Library.

20 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do with the Mac Option Key go menu library folder1 640x390

Toggle Do Not Disturb Mode in Notification Center

Do you want to activate the Do Not Disturb mode to stop notifications from distracting you Pop Ups on Your Mac? How to Stop Them Once and For All They break your focus, get in the way and sometimes baffle you. Why won't these pop ups go away? Read More ?

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.

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 How To: Easy Keyboard Shortcuts For Accent Marks on Letters [Mac] Read More 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 How to Trace an IP Address to a PC & How to Find Your Own Want to see the IP address of your computer? Perhaps you want to discover where another computer is situated? Various free tools are available that tell you more about a computer an its IP address. Read More to the BSSID. You also get a link to Wireless Diagnostics.

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.

20 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do with the Mac Option Key slideshow via context menu 640x360


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 A Quick Guide to Using a Mac for Windows Users Every Windows user should know the basics of working on a Mac. Here's a quick guide to help Mac newcomers find their way around. Read More . We’re sure you’ll be delighted by what you discover.

Which other Option key secrets do you know of? Give us your best tricks in the comments!

Related topics: Keyboard Shortcuts, Mac Menu Bar, OS X El Capitan, OS X Yosemite.

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  1. obadiahrobert
    August 14, 2016 at 7:18 am

    NOPE, NOPE, NOPE, too many things to remember. I NEVER use these key things.

  2. Anonymous
    February 18, 2016 at 5:17 am

    Thanks Akshata for sharing the power behind option key :)
    Previously I had created a service to copy path of any file/folder, option key eliminates that tweak.

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      February 24, 2016 at 2:52 pm

      That's interesting, Pawan. And you're welcome :)

  3. Mona
    February 2, 2016 at 2:48 am

    Thank you, Akshata, for this article (and the ones you referenced). I've been using Mac for a while, but I certainly never heard of most of this! I will print this and refer to it often. You are a gem!

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      February 2, 2016 at 3:39 am

      Glad to hear you found the article so useful, Mona! Thank you for reading :)

  4. chan
    December 1, 2015 at 6:21 pm

    alt-battery icon displays the condition of the battery. :)

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      December 2, 2015 at 3:38 am

      Thanks for pointing it out, Chan :)

  5. Anonymous
    November 3, 2015 at 8:52 pm

    Hi Akshata, first off: great article!

    I think maybe some of these tips only apply to El Capitan, is that right? For example, I'm on Yosemite still and I don't see the option for "Delete Files Without Moving Them to Trash First" when I hold the option key in Finder. Or maybe I'm just missing something?

    I know I should have updated already, just haven't gotten a chance yet.

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      November 4, 2015 at 2:41 am

      Thanks, Matt! I moved to Mac just 3-4 months ago and hadn't used Yosemite much before El Capitan came along and I upgraded, so you might be right there - not all of these Option key options work on previous OS X versions.

  6. Anonymous
    November 3, 2015 at 5:16 pm

    This is terrific! Thank you--I see I will be using several of these tips immediately and often.

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      November 4, 2015 at 2:36 am

      Thank you for reading, hbolter!

  7. Anonymous
    November 2, 2015 at 11:16 pm

    Migrating from Windows, it appears Mac OS has lot more (hidden). Thanks for the helpful tip of more possibilities. Great, and looking forward to unlearn old habits.

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      November 3, 2015 at 7:29 am

      Glad to hear you're finding the article useful as a newbie to Mac :) Good luck with the transition, Sharadaprasad.

  8. Anonymous
    October 29, 2015 at 2:35 am

    How could you forget Command+option+eject (power on macbook air)??

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      October 29, 2015 at 5:14 am

      I'll blame that one on having a 2015 Mac with no Eject key and being a newcomer to OS X :D But F12 functions the same as Eject, I think, so thank you for pointing out that shortcut, Matt!

  9. Anonymous
    October 27, 2015 at 8:57 pm

    This is the best Mac OS X Tips article I have seen, great job guys.

    My tips:
    In Terminal windows with "Scroll alternate screen" enabled, scrolling is modified for the app, like in "vi". Simply hold shift when scrolling to scroll back before the current alternate window, in case you need to see Terminal history without exiting vi.

    Command-Left/Right arrow moves the cursor to the beginning/end of the line. Hold shift in addition to this to highlight the line.

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      October 29, 2015 at 1:43 am

      It's great to hear you loved the piece. Thanks for your Shift key tips. Maybe they can be the starting point for another article :)