Adding Keyboard Shortcuts to Mac Apps

Last modified
Wednesday, July 17, 2019
Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

What Is This?

Is there an application on your Mac whose menu items are lacking keyboard shortcuts? For instance, would it not be easier to add a shortcut to mail for the Save Attachments item, or to iTunes to sync your iOS device, or to Safari to quickly tweet a page? Well, you can do all this, and you need nothing more than a few minutes and System Preferences.

Cool! How Do I Do It?

  • Open the application to which you want to add a shortcut. Go to the menu item to which the shortcut will be mapped and note how it is spelled, right down to the punctuation and capitalization. OS10 will match the entry you make in System Preferences with this menu item, so the two must match character for character. Try going to the item and pressing vo-shift-c to copy it to the clipboard for pasting later. Vo may insert an extra space somewhere, but you will get the item's exact spelling and capitalization.
  • Now that you have the item, open System Preferences and activate the keyboard button. Select the "keyboard shortcuts" tab, then select "application shortcuts" from the first table in the window. Navigate to and activate the "add application shortcut" button.
  • You are in a new dialog. Use the popup menu to select the application to which the shortcut should apply, or select "all applications" if the shortcut is for an item that all apps have in common.
  • Move to the "menu title" edit field. This is where you will type and/or paste the name of the option to which to map the shortcut. Again, this entry must precisely match the entry in the app's menus or the shortcut will not work.
  • Now move to the "keyboard shortcut" edit field and press the key sequence to act as the shortcut. This (I assume) must include one keyboard character (letters, numbers, punctuation, arrows, and so on) and one or more modifiers (control, option, command, or shift). The shortcut must not conflict with any system-wide or application-specific shortcuts already in place. If it does, you will not get a warning, the shortcut will simply fail to activate your chosen menu item.
  • Activate the done button and go try your shortcut. As long as your key sequence does not conflict with any already present, and the text you entered in the "menu title" field exactly matches the item to be activated, the shortcut should work perfectly.


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Submitted by Cathy on Wednesday, February 13, 2013

wow, another great post! I have been bemoaning the fact that mail does not have a shortcut key for moving messages and now I learn that I have only to create my own., my only challenge will be try to figure out a good shortcut key combination that does not conflict with other shortcut. since I am new to the Mac, this may be a challenge. but I am up for it! thanks.

Submitted by Isaac Hebert (not verified) on Friday, February 7, 2014

This is another great post. Thanks for this guide now I know that I can create shortcuts on a app.

Submitted by UndergroundRiver on Sunday, June 22, 2014

I like to use the backslash key or the brackets so something like command backslash or control command shift left bracket is likely not in use <smile>.
Hope this helps.

Submitted by John Lipsey on Tuesday, December 23, 2014

I'm curious if this works with commands nested in menus. For example, in pages, under the share menu, there's "share link via iCloud", and under that is a mail option. Can you create a shortcut to this mail option itself? Thanks!

Submitted by Jennifer W. on Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Thank you like others above said this is a very helpful post.
I am wondering what is the difference between creating shortcuts in keyboard vs Commands in VO?
I am still trying to figure out VO as there are so many levels to it.
I was looking at the Commander in VO Menu where it gives the option to create shortcut.
I noticed that depending on which shortcut modifier key is chossen the options are different. I also can not seem to figure out how to get the commander keys to work. I have some issues with my hands that make it hard for me to press multiple keys at certain times. Is thorny way that the computer can be run without having to always hold down the VO cried? I know sometimes that can conflict with normal non VO commands. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
Thanks all.

Submitted by Matt T on Tuesday, March 26, 2019

That's in a menu, but I can't seem to get any keyboard shortcut assigned to it.