I'm looking for a mouseless/mouse-free solution. And I want to use the whole Character Viewer-- not just certain characters.

I can open the Character Viewer with CTRL+CMD+SPACE, but it doesn't have focus, so it seems I have to use my mouse to select anything inside it.

How can I give that window keyboard focus without using my mouse?

And then how can I copy characters from that window without using my mouse?

2 Answers 2


The Character Viewer has two states, as seen below.

  1. The complex state, that needs to be clicked first and doesn't seem to allow keyboard-only activation:

enter image description here

  1. The simple state, that gets automatically activated when invoked and is a joy to work with using only the keyboard. Tab key is used to switch between emoji categories:

enter image description here

You can switch between the states by clicking the friendly but almost invisible icon in the top-right corner (don't know what it's called, doesn't have any tooltip).

Friendly but invisible icon

To summarize, click the friendly icon, activate the Character Viewer, stay with the keyboard.

  • 2
    OMG thank you! It somehow switched from simple to complex right when I upgraded to Big Sur; I was crushed thinking they broke it! (complex mode doesn't auto-focus so it's impossible to use from the keyboard).
    – chesterbr
    Commented Jun 8, 2021 at 2:12
  • @chesterbr Same experience. Apple shouldn't do sily stuff like that ;)
    – Warpzit
    Commented Sep 20, 2022 at 9:00
  • On Ventura clicking that unnamed icon made the Character Viewer disappear. After opening the Finder you get the simple version to show, no keyboard based selection was possible. At some point, possible after typing Enter in the search field of the Character VIewer and closing it, I was finally able to use this without requiring the mouse.
    – Anthon
    Commented Nov 27, 2022 at 7:11
  • It's probably worth mentioning that the Character Viewer only has focus if you activate it while typing in a text box.
    – N. Virgo
    Commented Jul 20, 2023 at 14:33

You should be able to use the search field in the small version of Character Viewer. See one of the answers to this earlier question.

  • 2
    The search field can be used, however you need to reach for the mouse, and activate the Character Viewer first. Cmd+Tab/Cmd+` don't work.
    – Vlad
    Commented Aug 1, 2019 at 8:32
  • @Vlad I don't understand your comment. You can activate the Character Viewer via Control Command Space. No need to "reach for the mouse". Commented Aug 1, 2019 at 15:46
  • 2
    At least on my Mojave install (10.14.6) the Character Viewer is displayed by default in its 'complex' state (for a lack of a better word - please see my answer for pics). In this complex state it has to be clicked before you can use the keyboard on it.
    – Vlad
    Commented Aug 2, 2019 at 7:25

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