Cracking the Code: Understanding the Alt Key on Your Mac

Have you recently bought a Mac computer? Congratulations, and welcome to the indubitable world of the Apple ecosystem. You can consider pairing your Mac with an iPhone or iPad for a seamless, synchronized experience. 

If you have shifted from the Windows environment to the macOS ecosystem, you must have noticed that the button functions are slightly different. Have you noticed? 

One of the most essential buttons to know is the Alt key, and you may not even find it on your Mac keyboard. This is because it is usually labeled as Option. Believe it when we tell you that you are going to use this key a lot. Therefore, knowing how it works can maximize your productivity and boost your workflow. 

Here’s a comprehensive guide to help you understand the Alt on Mac keyboard, what it does, and how you can use it. 

What is the Alt Key Known as?

It depends on the Mac model and Apple keyboard you are using. The Alt key may not be found easily because it doesn’t always clearly say ‘Alt.’

Some keyboards have the ⌥ instead of Alt or both. Others have a button called Option. In most models with the Option button, you will see the symbol’⌥’ engraved on the same button. 

No matter what Alt is represented in your keyboard, it performs the same functions. 

Where is the Alt Key Found on the Mac Keyboard?

On a Mac keyboard, the Alt key is the third key from the left and the fourth key from the right. If the key is pressed by itself, it will not do anything. It cannot run a system command. However, using it with other keys makes it perform functions, and you will get special characters. This functionality is usually hidden. 

Please note that the two Alt keys on the keyboard do the same function. It is placed in two places for easier access and convenience. 

What are the Primary Functions of the Alt Key?

Whether your keyboard says ⌥, Option or Alt, they all have the same function. They work identically. 

This key can be used to modify or alternate another key’s function. For instance, if you press the Alt key and press the number 3 on the keyboard, it will type £. 

You can also easily switch between open applications by pressing the Alt key and the Tab button. This makes it easier to look through the apps that are open and quickly access them instead of clicking here and there. 

When you want to enter a selection of macOS boot modes, you can use the Alt key. Other functions and shortcuts are mentioned below. 

Examples of Common Shortcuts Using the Alt Key 

Now that you know where the Alt key is found on your Mac, it is essential to know why it exists and the shortcuts you can use. 

  • Alt + volume symbols – You can press Alt + F10/F11/F12 to adjust your computer’s sound settings. The alert volume can be adjusted in the Sound section, along with the sound you hear when your computer receives an alert. Other things you can do here are tinkering with the headphone’s sound balance, selecting a device for your sound output, picking the place for sound input, etc. 
  • Alt + F5 – If you want to change the keyboard settings, you can use this shortcut. This will toggle the keyboard settings. When the Keyboard window opens, you can add shortcuts for replacement texts, alter the function of the fn key, or adjust the brightness of the keyboard. 
  • Foreign letter accents – If you are writing in a foreign language or need to use accented letters, you can use the Alt key on your Mac. This will save you a lot of time when you need to enter accented letters in your document or email. For instance, Alt + O types the Scandinavian ø, Alt + U types the Umlaut ¨ and Alt + Y types ¥, Alt + K types ˀ and so on. 

The Bottom Line 

On your Mac computer, the Alt keys ensure that your experience using a Mac computer is smoother and much more streamlined. It allows you to access alternative and special characters that are typically hidden from view. Also, the key is useful in opening Settings and switching between open, active applications. Thanks to the key, you can speed up your workflow and don’t have to click here and there to quickly change settings or add an accented letter. 

It doesn’t matter if you haven’t worked with a Mac computer before because the key is visibly placed on the keyboard. Look for the symbol or Option key, and you can perform the functions mentioned above. Please note that the Alt key works similarly in a Windows keyboard as well. 

Have you used the Alt key before? Share your experience.