Mac Versus Windows Keyboard Shortcuts: What's The Difference?

Mac and Windows keyboards might look the same at first glance, but there are some subtle differences between them.
Christopher McFadden
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If you are a lifelong Windows user, you might find yourself a little bewildered when you first need to use a Mac. Or, indeed vice versa.

Differences between the two operating systems aside, their keyboard shortcuts actually have a lot more in common than you might expect. 


But, there is some key (pun intended) differences you need to know in order to save you from physically damaging that overly-priced Mac you just bought, or PC for that matter.

In the following article, we'll take a quick tour of some of the more common shortcuts between Windows and Mac.

This is not intended to be a comprehensive guide of shortcuts. There are plenty of other articles out there that do a great job of that.

What are the main differences between Mac and Windows keyboards?

Since we are talking about keyboard shortcuts for Mac and Windows, it might be useful to have a quick overview of their respect keyboards.

On the surface, they look very similar, but there are some subtle, but important, differences between the two.

Here is a typical Mac keyboard, we've highlighted the key we will be discussing shortly: 

shortcuts mac vrs windows mac
Modified from Wiki637/Wikimedia Commons

And here is a typical, whilst practically vintage, PC or Windows keyboard, again with critical keys highlighted: 

shortcuts mac vrs windows pc
Modified from Jleedev/Wikimedia Commons

⌘ Command and Ctrl keys

The main difference between the two is the Ctrl key, and ⌘ Command key on PC and Mac keyboards respectively. This is probably the most commonly used key for the most-used shortcuts on both systems. 

They effectively serve the same function and you will be using them quite a lot. Mac's do also tend to have a control key (Ctrl), but you will very rarely use it for general use. 

For Mac keyboards, the Ctrl key tends to act as a modifier in combination with other keys for some specialist features. For example, in combination with ⌘ Command + 1, it will show the bookmarks sidebar in Safari. 

Alt/Option keys


The next important key is the Alt key on the PC keyboard. This is a highly versatile key that has various functions depending on the user's command.

It is mostly used to invoke F-key functions, graphical menus, modifying keys on the numerical keypad and changing keyboard languages, to name but a few. 

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On Mac, the Alt key provides some other different functions to its PC cousin. One of its main functions is for cursor control when used in combination with the arrow keys.

It can also be used to insert specialist characters like "™",  "©" etc. This key is also used to modify other functions using the ⌘ Command, and others.

Windows and Mac logos

The Windows symbol on modern keyboards is used as a shortcut to open the Start Menu. When pressed with letter key, it invokes a command that's meaningful system-wide e.g. Window Logo + D gets you the desktop.

On Mac, the Apple symbol is used as a modifier for other shortcuts. For example, ⌘ Command + C copy something.

Most of the other keys are ostensibly the same, but there are some other differences you should be aware of.

Comparison between Windows and Mac common shortcuts

As previously mentioned, the biggest thing to be aware of is that a Mac keyboard's ⌘ Command key is, essentially, the same as the Ctrl key on a windows keyboard. You will be using this for most of the useful shortcuts you are used to on Windows. 

This key is the main modifier for most things you'll be doing on your Mac. This key will form the linchpin for the most common keyboard shortcuts you are ever going to need.

In the following table, we've compiled some of the more common keyboard shortcuts for both OS. Needless to say, this is far from comprehensive, there are many, many more you can use for all sorts of cool, quick, functions.

As you confidence and knowledge grow using either operating system, you will find many more that suit your particular needs.

Function Mac Shortcut Windows Shortcut Notes
Cut something like text ⌘ Command + X Ctrl + X  
Copy something like text ⌘ Command + C Ctrl + C This also works for files in the Finder on Mac
Paste something from clipboard ⌘ Command + V Ctrl + V This also works for files in the Finder on Mac
Undo the previous command. ⌘ Command + Z Ctrl + Z You can undo and redo (next entry) multiple times on both platforms.
Redo or reverse your previous undo command  Shift + ⌘ Command + Z Ctrl + Y You can undo and redo (previous entry) multiple times on both platforms.
Select all items ⌘ Command + A Ctrl + A  
This useful shortcut lets you find items in a document or open a Find window. ⌘ Command + F Ctrl + F  
Find again, or find the next occurrence of an item you've previously found ⌘ Command + G CTRL + PageDown  To find the previous occurrence, press Shift + Command + G on Mac. You can do the same on Windows with Ctrl +  Pageup.
Find and replace ⌘ Command + H Ctrl + H  
Hide all windows to the current app ⌘ Command + H Win + D  To view the front app but hide all other apps, press Option + Command + H on Mac
Shortcut to print the current document ⌘ Command + P Ctrl + P  
Shortcut to save the current document ⌘ Command + S Ctrl + S  
Open a new tab or window ⌘ Command + T Ctrl + N  
Add @/ampersand  Option (Alt) + Q or 2 Just press the @ symbol This one stumps many a Windows user. Be careful not to use Command + Q - this will close everything.


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