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?


7 Answers 7


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.

  • 4
    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, 2012 at 7:07
  • 2
    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, 2012 at 7:42
  • 3
    In some cases where you are in a form of some sort where Return creates a newline, Enter submits the form.
    – asmeurer
    Jun 24, 2012 at 0:05
  • 1
    when modifying a shape in photoshop, shift-return or enter will accept the changes Jul 27, 2012 at 14:39
  • 1
    Mac Pages app: Command-Enter for page break, Cmd-Return doesn't work.
    – bebbi
    Oct 18, 2017 at 9:38

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).

  • 3
    Very interesting.
    – boehj
    Apr 9, 2012 at 2:12

Enter and Return are often interchangeable, particularly on Windows systems where the distinction is even less obvious that with some other OS.

The key is in the codes the the keys actually send when you press them - we all know what we intend, when we use those keys, but what does the computer see? The answer is that is either sees a command for New Line, or a Carriage Return.

These are 2 separate commands and they do different things - think of a typewriter; a new line is like advancing the barrel moving the paper up one line, carriage return returns the whole sheet of paper back to the left margin as well as advancing the paper up. The symbols almost reflect this; (new line and return) or (doesn't really indicate new line, but does indicate a stationary cursor; see example later)

Now, sometimes (Yep, Windows) no matter what you input, you get a carriage return, as the OS doesn't distinguish between the 2. But on other OS it does give you 2 different meanings. As such, an Enter is often used to move onto the next item, with Return signifying an end to the input and a return to the beginning. The difference between the 2 in many programs might be something like the following:

Dear Sirs,⌤
          What's the difference between Enter and Return?⌤
                                                         Many Thanks,⌤


Dear Sirs,↩
What's the difference between Enter and Return?↩
Many Thanks,↩

There isn't quite such a clean analogy on modern systems, but that's the historical starter for 10. This then get's muddled by the fact that, actually these days we often use TAB in place of Enter, think of filling a web form in.

  • For completeness note that on OS X, when saving plain text, CR means Carriage Return AND Line Feed, while on Windows it is ONLY Carriage Return 0x0D. If you want to see proper text on DOS/Windows terminal your file must have Line Feed 0x0A too (i.e. CR LF line breaks, not just CR), otherwise you'll write everything on one line. On UNIX the situation is reverse to that of OS X: Line Feed means Carriage Return AND Line Feed.
    – Ruslan
    Jan 8, 2016 at 9:47
  • Different Windows software seems to treat CR without LF or vice versa differently. I can see that the CR+LF combination probably originated on teleprinters, on which CR moves the carriage back to the left edge of the page and LF rotates the cylinder to move the paper up a line. While the screen analogue is clear, not many programs seem to actually process CR and LF in this way. The enter/return key typically sends the CR character code, but in C programs when writing to stdout one uses just LF, which gets converted to CR+LF behind the scenes if the platform needs it.
    – Stewart
    May 24 at 14:07
  • I recall that, in the console under Unix-type systems (I've probably seen it on Mac OS X; presumably other Unices are the same), CR by itself will just move the cursor to the left edge, whereas LF will both do this and move down a line.
    – Stewart
    May 24 at 14:09
  • @Ruslan I think your first sentence depends a lot on the software. Mac CR being equivalent to DOS/Windows CR+LF seems to come from classic Mac OS, with some OS X software having retained this. OTOH, from what I recall, other software will use LF for this, reflecting Mac OS X / OS X / macOS being Unix-based. But it's been a while since I've used a Mac.
    – Stewart
    May 24 at 14:14

I was using Word for Mac and was looking for the shortcut to insert a page break. When searching the internet, it was the first time I encountered the difference between Return and Enter on the Mac keyboard. There is a shortcut to insert a page break (Shift-Enter) and one to insert a line break (Shift-Return).

Before reading this thread, I wasn't able to understand the difference, but after trying with (fn+Return) to produce the (Enter) key, it actually worked. So to insert the page break, I need to hold down the fn and shift keys and press Return.


Microsoft Word makes a difference between Return en Enter. By using the Return key a new paragraph is made. By using the Shift-Return key you'll get, what is called in an old fashioned way, a Carriage Return en Line Feed. The difference can only been seen by going "under water", which is using the special P character in the top bar. The use of this distinction is becoming clear when using illustrations or figures in a document. In WORD an illustration is connected to a paragraph. By using the paragraphs as they are supposed to be used the illustration remains near or in the text of the paragraph.

  • But enter isn't Shift-Return; it's Fn-Return
    – Daniel
    Aug 9, 2020 at 18:27

Enter on Mac OS was sometimes used as an Action key, where Return was used to purely for text editing. So, in a text area on a form, you could input text with line breaks and press Enter to accept the form. These days the distinction has mostly been lost.

BBEdit uses Enter in the shell worksheet to execute the current line or selection in a shell.

The old Apple development environment MPW Shell also had this functionality.

Script Editor uses Enter to compile the current script.


Fn+Return (Enter on MacBook Pro) reformats AppleScript code in Keyboard Maestro.

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