Monday, November 20, 2017 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Mac Modifier Key Order

Apple:

In combination keystrokes, use hyphens to signify that the user should hold down the first key or keys while pressing the last key. Don’t use a hyphen if each key should be pressed and released separately. Be sure to explain this convention on first use.

Control-Shift-N

[…]

If there’s more than one modifier key, use this order: Fn (function), Control, Option, Shift, Command.

[…]

Shift-Command-Tilde

[…]

Shift-Command-Question Mark

Dr. Drang (tweet):

The order is similar to how you see them down at the bottom left of your keyboard. […] The oddball is the Shift(⇧) key, which sneaks in just in front of Command.

Jason Snell (tweet):

I absolutely do not follow this style. It seems completely backward to me, in fact. It’s not “Shift-Command-3”, it’s “Command-Shift-3.” Command is the commander! Command is the monarch of all keys! Command always comes first, in my book.

It seems backward to me, too, and I wonder if perhaps Apple’s preferred style has changed. I seem to recall Command always coming first. The documented order does have the advantage of matching the order shown in menu items.

Update (2017-11-21): Andy Lee:

Xcode deviates in its display of some keys. Command-Shift-[ is displayed as ⌘⇧[ in System Preferences, Keyboard Maestro, and BBEdit, but as ⌘{ in Xcode. In all cases, though, it’s ⇧⌘3, not ⇧#.

Update (2017-11-27): See also: Upgrade.

Dr. Drang:

It’s not just having the ⌘ symbols aligned. The additional modifier symbols go in front because ⌘ is king and must sit next to the N or the W. The importance of the modifier decreases as you move away from the letter.

[…]

Having said all this, and despite agreeing with Apple’s symbol ordering, my ear for shortcut ordering works just like Jason’s and John’s. The main reason I use keyboard shortcut symbols in my posts instead of words is that I can read ⌥⇧⌘W and not be bothered because I don’t “hear” it as I read the symbols. “Option-Shift-Command-W,” on the other hand, gets sounded out in my head, and it sounds wrong.

6 Comments

My instinct is that there has always been some kind of common sense inverted relationship between the visual order in menus, etc., and the read order. It's kind of like the way everybody writes $5, but nobody says "Dollars 5."

I agree with Daniel. The way they are written in symbols is consistent, and I don't think it's changed. Keyboard Maestro displays them the same, and sorts them this way when you search for something (so you can type them in any order and it will find them).

But when you speak them or write them out long hand, then, as Jason says, it is always Command first (and then frankly I'm not sure the order after that matters much, but Control-Option-Shift is probably fine and consistent with the symbols.

@Daniel and @Peter I agree with you that the visual order and read order used to be different. But now Apple seems to want them to be the same, with Command last. When did it change? (I’ve updated the post to add some more examples.)

Command Key used to be Apple Key and it was always first then.

@Dmitri So the Apple II days?

I guess it started then, but in 90s it was common to see use of  (instead of or together with ⌘) in reference materials, and Apple keyboards used to have it on key caps. Whenever  is used is any combination it always comes first.
So for a long time it was very natural to say Command-Shift or Command-Option and I think it was the legacy of Apple-Shift- shortcut language from the past, even if it was a short period long time ago.

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