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I see the following Mac keyboard shortcuts defined in software documents all the time, for example in Keyboard shortcuts for macOS.

Ironically, I can't seem to find which keys on the keyboard these symbols indicate. Can anyone help me out?

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  • 6
    What keyboard do you have? Most of these symbols are shown on Mac keyboards.
    – benwiggy
    Apr 21 at 20:30
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    I have a 2015 MacBook with US keyboard and the Option key says option and alt on it, but doesn't have the symbol.
    – nekomatic
    Apr 22 at 7:37
  • @benwiggy I've generally preferred PC keyboards, even when working on Macs. (I use both regularly depending on what I'm working on). I've never liked the built-in keyboard on any laptop, PC or Mac. PC keyboards are generally 100% compatible with Macs, you just have to adjust to the fact that Ctrl = Cmd and the Windows key = Ctrl. Shift and Alt are where you'd expect them to be. Doesn't seem to be true in this case though. Apr 22 at 13:16
  • @DarrelHoffman You've got that backwards. Ctrl = Ctrl and Windows key = Cmd key. MacOS does use Cmd instead of Ctrl for many common shortcuts, but many other shortcuts are the same across OSs. There's also the physical location of the keys, but that's usually Windows/Cmd swapped with Alt/Option; Ctrl is usually always in the same place.
    – 8bittree
    Apr 22 at 20:36
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    @DarrelHoffman As I said, "MacOS does use Cmd instead of Ctrl for many common shortcuts." But that's very different from saying that the Windows key = Ctrl. If you try to activate a shortcut that's asking for the Ctrl key by pressing the Windows key, you're going to be very confused.
    – 8bittree
    Apr 22 at 21:03

3 Answers 3

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Several modifier keys have unique symbols that identify them, including:

  • Command (or Cmd)
  • Shift
  • Option (or Alt)
  • Control (or Ctrl)
  • Caps Lock
  • Fn Function

This list is also available at Apple's support website: https://support.apple.com/kb/HT201236

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    The “command key” ⌘ is sometimes also called the “Apple key” or “open apple key”, since for a while it was designated with an outlined Apple logo, . Here in Sweden it is also called “fornminnetangenten”, “ancient monument key”, since the ⌘ symbol is traditionally used to mark such monuments on maps, road signs, etc.
    – PLL
    Apr 22 at 20:04
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    That is not a coincidence, @PLL. Susan Kare chose the existing Swedish symbol from a symbol dictionary; see the history here. (Some additional context to add to Andy's story: the Apple II had used filled-apple and open-apple icons on meta keys, so these were retained in early versions of the Mac and Mac OS, which is what Steve witnessed and was reacting to.)
    – Cody Gray
    Apr 22 at 20:26
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    You can also notice that ^ symbol is used in the *nix OSes to mark Control key, nowadays usually only in terminal applications (^C means Control-C etc.).
    – jiwopene
    Apr 24 at 12:39
3

Those are shift and option/alt

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Whether those keys have words or symbols or both can depend on the language of the keyboard and when it was made.

I see both of those symbols — and most of the others listed in jefe2000's answer — on mine (old 2015 MacBook Pro, Finnish keyboard layout, FWIW):

A photo of the lower left corner of a 2015 MacBook Pro keyboard (Finnish key layout) with the ⇪ (caps lock), ⇧ (shift), ⌥ (option / alt) and ⌘ (command) symbols circled.

The one exception is that the "ctrl" key on my keyboard doesn't have the ⌃ symbol on it; perhaps because it could be confused with the actual ^ (caret) key found on the other side of the keyboard, next to the return key.

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  • caret is shift 6 on many keyboards...
    – Solar Mike
    Apr 23 at 21:22
  • My 2021 MBP M1 has symbols on the control (and option and command) keys, but not on the shift key (nor caps lock). All those keys have their names spelled out on them. Alt is labeled control.
    – LarsH
    Apr 23 at 23:49
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    @LarsH What do you mean by "Alt is labeled control"? Alt is always option or ⌥, not control. Apr 24 at 12:23
  • @TomGewecke You're right, I meant to say "Alt is labeled option".
    – LarsH
    Apr 25 at 1:25

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