Keyboard Shortcuts

Learning Outcomes

  • Use keyboard shortcuts to perform tasks

A keyboard shortcut is a series of keys you can press to complete a computer command. As a common convention, keys that are meant to be pressed at the same time are joined by a + in written text. For example, Ctrl+S means you should press and hold the Ctrl key and then press the S key.

There are many, many keyboard shortcuts. However, you will probably only need to use a few. We will use many of these shortcuts throughout the course.

Most Commonly Used Shortcuts

These are a few of the most common shortcuts that you’ll use as you navigate your computer. There are both Windows and Mac shortcuts listed. Note that Ctrl stands for the control key, and Cmnd stands for the command key.

Table 1. Common Keyboard Shortcuts
Command Windows Shortcut Mac Shortcut Explanation
Cut Ctrl+X Cmnd+X Copies and removes an item or text; used with Paste
Copy Ctrl+C Cmnd+C Copies an item or text; used with Paste
Paste Ctrl+V Cmnd+V Inserts the last cut or copied item or text
Select All Ctrl+A Cmnd+A Selects all text or items
Undo Ctrl+Z Cmnd+Z Undoes the last action
Redo Ctrl+Y Cmnd+Y Redoes the last thing undone
Task Manager/Force Quit Ctrl+Alt+Delete Cmnd+Opt+Esc Opens Task Manager (see note)
Close window Alt+F4 Cmnd+W Closes window; (in Windows, this command shuts down computer if all windows are closed)
New Ctrl+N Cmnd+N Opens a new window, tab, or document
Open Ctrl+O Cmnd+O Opens a file or document
Save Ctrl+S Cmnd+S Saves a file
Find Ctrl+F Cmnd+F Opens search tools; in most programs, opens a search box to find specific words on a page

Practice Question

Note: Cut vs. Copy

Cut Copy
Cut feature which is represented by scissors. Copy feature which is represented by a printer.
Clipboard feature which is represented by two pieces of paper. The piece in front has dotted lines. Paste feature which is represented by two pages one in front of the other.

Cutting and copying can be used on files, folders, and text. Both are followed by the Paste command. So what’s the difference between cutting and copying?

The cut command removes the selected data from its original position, while the copy command creates a duplicate; in both cases the selected data is kept in a temporary storage tool called the clipboard. The data in the clipboard is later inserted in the position where the paste command is issued. The data is available to any application supporting the feature, thus allowing easy data transfer between applications.

Think of using scissors to cut out a line of text on a printed sheet of paper and pasting it onto another sheet of paper. The line is no longer part of the original piece of paper when you cut it out. Now think of using a copy machine to copy the sheet of paper. The line of text is still on the original sheet of paper.

Note: Task Manager/Force Quit

Task Manager/Force Quit (Ctrl+Alt+Delete or Command+Option+Esc) is a useful tool for terminating crashed programs or shutting down a frozen computer. Task Manager interrupts whatever your computer is doing and allows you to shut down your computer or access the Task Manager. The Task Manager shows every program currently being used and allows you to close unresponsive programs or background tasks.

The Windows 10 Ctrl+Alt+Delete screen.

The Windows 10 Ctrl+Alt+Delete screen. (Click the image to enlarge.)

Windows 10 Task Manager

Windows 10 Task Manager. To close a program, select the program then click End task.

Overview of Keys

Below is a diagram of the keyboard with some keys labeled. Do not be worried if your keyboard does not match the diagram or does not have exactly the same keys.


Control Key

The control key, or Ctrl key, is essential to many common shortcuts. It does not do anything when pressed by itself, but when pressed at the same time as other keys, it can modify the other key’s function.

Note: The Command Key

If you’re using a computer with Mac OS, you’ll most likely have a Command (Cmnd) key instead of a Ctrl key. In most keyboard shortcuts, command will replace Ctrl (for example, on a Windows machine Ctrl+C copies, and on a Mac machine, Cmnd+C copies).

There is also a control key on some Mac machines, but its function is entirely different. For now, you won’t need to worry about it.

Alt Key

The alt key, or alternate key, triggers an alternate use for keys. For example, many special characters (characters not commonly found on the keyboard, such as ¿ or ¢) are available when pressing Alt and the right series of numbers. Like the control key, the alt key is also essential to many common shortcuts.

Note: The Option Key

If you’re using a computer with Mac OS, you’ll most likely have an Option (Opt) key instead of a Alt key. In some keyboard shortcuts, Opt will replace Alt, but the two are less directly related.

Windows Key

The Windows key (also known as Win key, start key, or home) causes the start menu to open. The logo may vary slightly from the design in the diagram above. If the Windows key is missing, Ctrl+Esc can serve the same function.

Microsoft logo from 2012 until present.

This logo was used from 2012 to the present.

Microsoft logo from 2002 to 2012

This logo was used 2002–2012.

Menu Key

The menu key, or application key, is usually represented by a small icon depicting a pointer hovering above a menu. It is typically found on the right side of the keyboard between the right Windows logo key and the right control key (or between the right alt key and the right control key). The menu key is frequently omitted in the interest of space, particularly on portable and laptop keyboards. The key’s primary function is to launch a context menu with the keyboard rather than with the usual right-mouse button. It can be used when the right-mouse button is not present on a mouse.

Escape Key

The escape key, or Esc, is at the top-left corner of the keyboard. It can be used as a shortcut in dialog boxes to close programs.

Print Screen Key

The print screen key, or Prt Sc key, is used for taking screenshots. Pressing Prt Sc will take a snapshot of the entire screen, and pressing Prt Sc+Alt will take a snapshot of just the currently selected window. The default save location of screenshots taken is C:\Users\<user name>\Pictures\Screenshots.

Note: Print Screen on a Mac

If you’re using a computer with Mac OS, you most likely won’t have a print screen key. Instead, you can use one of the following shortcuts:

  • Cmnd+Shift+3 will take a screenshot of your full screen
  • Cmnd+Shift+4 will bring up a crosshair and let you drag to select a portion of your screen to screenshot

Practice Question

More Shortcuts (If You Really Want Them)

For a full list of Windows shortcuts, consult Microsoft’s list of shortcuts.

For a full list of Mac shortcuts, consult Apple’s list of shortcuts.