Control Your Mac With Voice Commands & Better Dictation In OS X Yosemite

Bakari Chavanu 26-11-2014

You once needed expensive software and a lesson in patience to control your Mac with your voice, but now you can do it with little more than Apple’s latest free upgrade to Mac OS X.


Over 50 editing and formatting commands were added to the voice dictation feature in Yosemite, and in addition to real-time dictation, dictated text can be selected, formatted, and even copied and pasted.

The new updates also make it easier to launch and quit applications, open and save a documents, minimize windows, perform Spotlight searches and more without touching a touchpad or mouse.

Tell Your Mac What To Do

Don’t feel like you’re not a Mac power user if you didn’t know about that Dictation Commands exist in Yosemite – I just discovered them the other day while looking through my computer’s settings. Text dictation and system commands have now been combined and are accessible via System Preferences >Dictation & Speech >Text To Speech. You need to click on Open Accessibility Preferences, scroll down and click on Dictation, followed by the Dictation Commands button.

Control Your Mac With Voice Commands & Better Dictation In OS X Yosemite voice dictation preferences

Commands are still not as powerful as Nuance’s Dragon Dictate, which we compared in a previous article How To Dictate Writing On Your Mac: Apple's Dictation vs DragonDictate For a long time if you wanted or needed to use a speech-to-text dictation program on your Mac, your only choices were MacSpeech Dictate (now defunct) and Nuance's DragonDictate. But with the release of Mountain... Read More , but they are useful for dictating short comments, text and email messages.


If you have never used Apple’s voice dictation, you will need to activate it in System Preferences >Dictation. If you enable “Use Enhanced Dictation,” it allows for offline use and continuous dictation, with live feedback. The first time you enable Enhanced Dictation, the content for that feature will be downloaded to your Mac.

If you don’t enable the enhanced feature, your Mac will need an active Internet connection to access Apple’s dictation library on its server.

Voice dictation settings

Using Voice Dictation

At any point you can double-tap your Mac’s “fn” function key to enable the dictation dialogue. Voice dictation can be used in any text editor on the Mac, including TextEdit, Mail, and Safari.


When the microphone icon pops up, you can start your dictation. If you enabled Enhance Dictation, the Mac will type your words as you speak them. But unlike with previous versions of the dictation feature, you can now speak commands to edit and format text as you dictate.


Dictation commands are listed under the Dictation pane in System Preferences. The commands include, “Undo that” (undo the last command spoken), “Go to end” (place the cursor after the last word spoken) and “Stop listening” (turns off voice dictation). You can review the list of commands by saying, “Show commands,” “Open commands,” or “Show me what to say.”



The list of commands shown depends upon which application you’re using during voice dictation. You can also access and view the commands in System Preferences, which will remain open even when voice dictation is not enabled.

Notice also you can issue computer commands for launching and quitting applications, creating a new document or clicking an item, such as a Save button. As with previous versions of voice system commands, custom commands can be created to run Automator workflows 3 Easy-To-Create Simple Automator Workflows for Everyday Use Read More , AppleScript automations, or to activate assigned keyboard shortcuts. Click the plus button in the Accessibility Dictation window to add custom commands.

Voice dictation custom

Voice Dictation Performance

I wrote most of this article using Dragon Dictate (as I show in this article Can You Write A Whole Article Using Voice Dictation on the Mac? Well I Just Did (And This Is It) What you're reading right now is an example of Apple's dictation and speech program in action. It may be useful for short passages, but can you write a whole article with it? Read More ), instead of Apple’s dictation program. While it’s great to see the new voice dictation features, they don’t work as well or as consistently as Dragon Dictate. For example, speaking the command, “Cut that,” doesn’t always delete the last spoken text, as it does in Nuance’s program. I do find that saying “Undo that” works better.


As a writer, I must admit that I have used the built-in voice dictation several times for quickly getting the correct spelling of a difficult word.

Control Your Mac With Voice Commands & Better Dictation In OS X Yosemite voice dictation corrections

Nuance also provides a recognition window that lists alternative spellings and phrases that it thinks you are speaking, which enables you to make faster corrections using voice dictation.

Control Your Mac With Voice Commands & Better Dictation In OS X Yosemite dragon dictate recognition window

Dragon Dictate can also remain on indefinitely, whereas Apple’s dictation feature will sometimes automatically shut itself off. And because I use a special USB TableMike, I can make dictations in Dragon Dictate even while music is playing in the background. When it’s enabled, Apple’s implementation mutes sound coming from other programs.

The computer system commands, however, are useful for performing tasks you manually do on the Mac. If you work at your computer all day, it’s useful to create some custom commands that can save you from constantly typing shortcuts and clicking buttons.

Constantly Improving

I am confident that Apple’s voice dictation program will get better over time, and ultimately replace Dragon Dictate. In the mean time, I still recommend using the program for writing short comments and emails, similar to how it’s done with the Siri the dictation feature in iOS Type Superfast With Real Time Voice Dictation in iOS 8 It's time to do less typing and more talking with the new real time voice-to-text feature in iOS 8. Read More . The more you practice using voice dictation, the easier it gets.

Do you talk to your Mac?

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  1. DERN72
    February 22, 2016 at 1:43 pm

    Is it possible to remove the dictation symbol whilst speaking? I find it gets in the way.

  2. Samin
    January 5, 2016 at 9:42 am

    Wonderful thing about Mac is available in these site.

  3. tam
    May 2, 2015 at 9:31 pm

    I can't figure how to get it to delete? I tried "cut that" and "undo that" "delete that" - none of them work - help!

    • Bakari Chavanu
      May 5, 2015 at 7:04 pm

      Tam, if you're trying those editing commands using Yosemite voice commands, they probably won't work consistently – or at all. I've gotten real mixed results. Dragon Dictate works a lot better, but it is expensive and somewhat difficult to learn. If there is a free trial download of Dragon Dictate, I suggest giving it a try.

  4. Jaime
    April 8, 2015 at 11:52 am

    Thanks very helpful. Will try mac's version first.

    • Bakari Chavanu
      May 5, 2015 at 7:01 pm

      Jaime, yep that's a good idea. I was helping someone a few weeks who tried a few Automator-generated voice commands, but we couldn't get it to successfully work. But at least the Yosemite voice dictation will give you an idea of what is possible.

  5. Tera
    January 10, 2015 at 9:55 am

    Nope, didn't work! Hmm... Onward and upward. :-)

    • Bakari Chavanu
      January 14, 2015 at 6:15 pm

      Tera, I use Dragon Dictate for all my voice commands. It can be left on indefinitely or temporary muted with a hotkey. Here's a demo of demo of what I'm talking about: [Broken Link Removed]

    • Bakari Chavanu
      January 14, 2015 at 6:17 pm

      Opps, sorry, didn't embed the link. [Broken Link Removed]

  6. Tera
    January 10, 2015 at 9:52 am

    I just had a thought that maybe I could use Google Drive to view a slide presentation I upload, and use dictation maybe in notes or something... I'll have to try that out and get back to you!

  7. Tera
    January 10, 2015 at 9:50 am

    Great article!

    What I wish Mac Dictation would do is stay on even if I'm not on a text page... like, if I was working on a Keynote presentation or viewing images for a presentation. It would be nice to be able to practice my slideshow with the images and get it dictated. Does that make sense? :-)

    But alas this is good enough and I am actually speaking right now so it's working in Safari.
    good stuff!