I can use + S to type the greek letter ß (beta) in any application, which is very useful.

However, what about poor α (alpha)? Is there a shortcut for it?

Currently, I either copy & paste it from another source or switch the keyboard to greek temporarily. Both methods take a lot of time, and copy & paste often results in formatting problems as well (the source format is preserved).

Is there a shortcut to quickly type alpha, or a way I can create it (through an app or messing with hidden system settings for example)?

I am using OS X Yosemite 10.10.5

9 Answers 9


ß isn't beta. It's the (german) sharp s. The greek beta looks like this: β.

The fastest method probably is:

  • enable the greek keyboard layout permamently in System Preferences -> Keyboard -> Input Sources
  • defining and enabling a free keyboard shortcut in System Preferences -> Keyboard -> Shortcuts -> Input Sources -> Select next source in input menu (e.g ShiftAltSpacebar)

To type α/β/γ/ε etc., you just have to switch the keyboard layout with ShiftAltSpacebar, hit A/B/G/E etc. and switch back to your common keyboard layout with ShiftAltSpacebar. If you have more than two keyboard layouts enabled (e.g. US, Greek, Hex) you may add a second keyboard shortcut "Select previous source in input menu" and hit that one to get back or you have to rotate through all your layouts with the "Select next source in input menu"-shortcut until you reach your common layout again.

Karabiner/KeyRemap4MacBook offer a remapping of the right Option/alt key to temporarily switch to the greek keyboard layout in the presets (the greek keyboard layout has to be enabled):

enter image description here

In Lion this doesn't work properly and interferes with Spotlight. I had to turn off the Spotlight shortcuts in System Preferences -> Keyboard -> Shortcuts -> Spotlight. One might add a customized remapping by modifying a copy of the original source to get it working without disabling the Spotlight shortcuts:

<?xml version="1.0"?>
    <name>Change input source temporary</name>
      <name>Change input source to Greek while you are holding down right option key.</name>
        Option::KEYTOKEY_AFTER_KEYUP, KeyCode::SPACE, ModifierFlag::OPTION_L, ModifierFlag::SHIFT_L, KeyCode::VK_WAIT_100MS,

Create a shortcut text snippet.

Go to System Preferences (from the Apple  menu).

Click on Keyboard and then the Text tab.

Enter “aalpha” (or another text of your choosing that you are unlikely to type by accident) under the “Replace” column and paste the alpha symbol α into the “With” column.

Now whenever you type “aalpha” you will get α instead. Pretty cool.

(If you have iCloud on, there’s a good chance you will now be able to use this shortcut text on iOS, too!)

How to get any character, any time, with no Googling:

  1. Hit Command-Ctrl-Space (⌘⌃-Space). A palette with emoji should show up.
  2. Type the name of the character or symbol you want in the search box at the top. (You may have to scroll up within the pallette).
  3. Click the symbol to use it.

enter image description here


That's not actually beta, it's the German 'ess zett' s/z used for 'double s' in "heiß" (= hot) etc. - which is why it sits under s not b.




I'd use System Prefs > Keyboard > Text & add a replace shortcut.
Click the + at the bottom, then on the left , copy/paste α then on the right type your shortcut. Repeat for β

[Note: This doesn't work in Chrome, but does in Safari & most Apple apps]


I use the Character Viewer to insert any Unicode character into my documents.

This can be enabled from the Keyboard Preferences menu.

  • This is still much more inconvenient than a shortcut though. option-q produces œ, whatever the hell it may be, and yet there really isn't one for alpha? O.o Sep 6, 2015 at 8:29
  • 3
    @AndreasBonini No, not for alpha, not for beta, or most greek letters. There never has been, you need to use the greek keyboard or character viewer. Sep 6, 2015 at 9:59
  • 1
    @AndreasBonini as a small sidenote, œ is a french symbol and is used in words like "œuf" (= egg)
    – Hoi_A
    Oct 25, 2016 at 16:06

If you want to type Greek letters easily but without switching your keyboard layout, you can use a custom KeyBinding dictionary.

This is mine; it allows me to type G, A to get the letter alpha, and similar for most other Greek letters, plus a bunch of other useful symbols.

You can place it at ~/Library/KeyBindings/DefaultKeyBinding.dict. You can also see more details in my answer here.


You can use Ukelele to create a new keyboard layout, which will be based on whatever you would like to have Greek letters in. Then, via this app, you can change any key combinations to output greek letters in any way you find most convenient.

Ukelele will create keyboard layout bundle that you can later share, reuse, move to another computer, and so on. Ukelele is not keyboard remapper, these bundles are usable without any dependencies on vanilla OS X.

  • I am not affiliated with Ukelele authors, program itself is free, works in both latest and established OS X versions, and does exactly what OP wants in the way that is most convenient to OP. Why downvote?
    – toriningen
    Sep 6, 2015 at 13:55

I used Automator to make a Service workflow, and Keyboard System Preferences to give it a combo keystroke. Text-replacement wasn't introduced until 10.13 High Sierra, and this was the best single-keystroke method I found for such versions (tested on 10.6 Snow Leopard).

First open Applications >> Automator, choose the "Service" template, set "Service recieves" to "no input", enable "Replaces selected text", doubleclick the "Run Applescript" action, replace its contents with the following:

on run {}

return (character id 945)

end run

and Save it with your desired name (e.g., "α", "Paste an alpha character", etc.).

Then open System Preferences >> Keyboard >> Keyboard Shortcuts >> Services, scroll down to Text services, find your new one, click somewhere in the empty white space to the farthest right of its name, and when the text entry box appears, press your desired key combo (I used command-option-shift-A).

The only downsides are that it leaves the character selected, so you have to deselect it (right-cursor, mouse click, etc.) before entering more text (which I guess makes it 2 keystrokes), and it's slow, takes about a second.


Another option in Word is to insert an equation - most useful if your alpha is accompanied by other math.


⌘ + ctrl + space opens the emoji viewer; from there you can search for alpha and enter it into your document easily. It will also appear in your recent emojis so you won't have to search for it next time. This is what I figured out reading this article, similarly frustrated by the lack of a "alt-based" alpha option.

  • 3
    Isn't this the same answer as provided by Alan H two years ago? Feb 18, 2017 at 20:39

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