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What and where is the Option key on a Mac?

Andrew Harrison | Aug. 7, 2013
Want to know where the Mac Option key is? Here's our Mac keyboard advice.

Want to know where the Mac Option key is? Here's our Mac keyboard advice.

'What is the Option key on a Mac' is a question many new Mac users ask, typically turning to Google with the question. Which may be how you, dear reader, landed on this page.

Brits especially ask the question what is the Option key on a Mac. And it's hardly surprising that many newcomers to Apple computers may be a little stumped. Scan the keyboard of any Apple Macintosh sold in the UK since 2006, and you're unlikely to find a key labelled Option.

Best we can see, Apple removed the Option naming convention on non-US Mac keyboards around the time of the processor migration from Motorola/IBM to Intel. In other words after leaving the G3, G4 and G5 for the Intel Core 2 Duo and Core i3/i5/i7 series.

The answer to the question of where is the Option key is simple. The Option key on a Mac is the same as the Alt key in Windows. Otherwise known as the Alternate key, it's most commonly represent by the symbol second from left in the photo below, Especially on Apple Mac keyboards. But it may also be seen in its inverted form.

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Bottom row, from left: Ctrl, Alt (or Option) and Apple (or Command) keys on a Mac

The Alt key will be more familiar to Windows PC users as the key immediately to the left of the Spacebar. So if you plug a Windows or IBM PC keyboard into a Mac, pressing the Alt key has the same effect as pressing the Option key.

The Option key is not to be confused with the Apple key, also know as the Command key, and depicted with the quadruple loop symbol third from left above. Nor is it the same as the Control key (Ctrl).

The Option key has many essential uses on the Mac; notably to select boot partition when starting the computer, and for direct printing of diacritical marks like from the keyboard.

We don't know why Apple decided to remove the Option legend on some territories' keyboards and instead use only the word 'Alt' and the ? symbol.


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