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I noticed that my MacBook's keyboard has the word enter above the return key. I also noticed that on Mac OS X, there's a special symbol for return ↩, and another for enter ⌤. How would I send the enter key if my MacBook has no numpad?

Is there any difference between these two keys?

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2 Answers

up vote 22 down vote accepted

On a MacBook with no number pad, the key combination fnreturn produces the Enter key. Individual programs can decide whether to treat the two keys as separate or the same. Many programs treat them the same.

The only example I have been able to come up with that still treats the two keys separately is iTunes: when browsing tracks, return starts playing the track, while enter (or fnreturn) enters track rename mode.

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You really have to look hard to find applications which distinguish the two. One is in TextMate's LaTeX package, where inside an 'itemize' environment, 'Enter' will create a new item, but 'Return' will produce a newline. –  jogloran Apr 4 '12 at 7:07
It's common in video editing apps, too. In Final Cut Pro "Return" will open the selected item, "Enter" will select the item's name for editing. After Effects does the same, but with the functions of the keys conveniently reversed. FileMaker Pro is another one, where "Return" is (usually) used for a new line and "Enter" advances to the next field. –  joelseph Apr 4 '12 at 7:42
In some cases where you are in a form of some sort where Return creates a newline, Enter submits the form. –  asmeurer Jun 24 '12 at 0:05
@asmeurer I remember that being the case, but haven't been able to find an example running on my computer today. What programs behave thusly? –  Daniel Lawson Jun 24 '12 at 0:37
when modifying a shape in photoshop, shift-return or enter will accept the changes –  Philippe Gilbert Jul 27 '12 at 14:39
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Maybe a bit of history is in order:

The first time a larger group of people required keyboards, these were data entry clerks, who had undergone the specialist training required to type fast.

For a typist to work without looking at the keyboard, their arms should not have to move, so you'd keep your fingers either on the home row (for alphanumeric input) or on the numeric pad. If the form requires both text and numbers, there would typically be two sections (which is why several forms ask for the city first, then the zip code, and only numbers afterwards, the origin of "1-Male/2-Female").

As a compromise between form entry and typing longer texts, the default mapping for the large key on the right of the alphanumerics area became Return, which inserts a line break; in order to advance to the next form field, Shift-Return provides another Enter key (which is why the word "Enter" is printed on the key).

This distinction has largely fallen out of use today as typing is no longer a specialist job, but computers in the home need to be intuitively understandable (rather than easy to use), and people have grown accustomed to using the Tab key to move between fields (which is actually quite cumbersome when your hand is placed so the index finger is on the f and the Ctrl key is still reachable).

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Very interesting. –  boehj Apr 9 '12 at 2:12
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