How to use keyboard shortcuts to move Mail messages

How to use keyboard shortcuts to move Mail messages
Quick Mac Tip, 10 April 2011

You can use the power of the System Preferences > Keyboard > Keyboard Shortcuts facility to easily move messages into a different folder by a single key combination.

This guest Tip is written by Graham McKay.

Double check the menu item

The first thing is to take a note of the exact spelling of the menu item that corresponds to moving the message to the folder.

Graham McKay. Graham McKay is a long time corporate IT guy, originally from NZ but now in Sydney, who has recently decided to break out of the grey suited world and share his extensive Apple OS X troubleshooting skills via his own consulting company.

In Mail select any message then using the menu bar, click on Message then move your cursor to the Move To sub menu to see the list of folders. In my example the folder is simply called Work.

This method will encounter problems if you have more than one folder or subfolder with the same name.

Enter the exact name of the menu command.

Enter the exact name of the menu command.

Set a custom keyboard shortcut

Back in the Keyboard shortcuts window select Application Shortcuts on the left and then click on the plus button to add a new keyboard shortcut.

In the dropdown window that appears select the Mail application then type the exact spelling of your folder name in the Menu Title box.

Then tab to, or click within, the Keyboard Shortcut box to position the cursor there.

At this point you need to decide what keyboard combination you want to use for the shortcut. I generally use the Control (⌃) key and the first letter of the folder — in this example then it is Control (⌃) W.

The menu now shows the custom keyboard shortcut.

The menu now shows the custom keyboard shortcut.

Click on the Add button then go back to the Mail window.

Check the Message menu in Mail

Bring up the Message > Move To menu item again to see that your keyboard shortcut is now listed next to that folder name.

Now if you select a message and press Control (⌃) W it’ll be moved to the Work folder.

Does Mail Copy instead of Move?

Important note: Mail will also have a menu item called Work under the Copy To option and hence your Control (⌃) W might perform a copy instead of a move.

To get Mail into the frame of mind to do a move rather than a copy, perform a single move using your mouse and the menu. After that the keyboard shortcut will use first preference of the Move option.

Do you have a favourite keyboard shortcut for Tell us in the Comments. Could you write a guest MacTip? If so, contact me.

Related posts

[wpzon keywords="pressure cooker" sindex="PCHardware" snode="1232597011" sort="salesrank" listing="8"]


  1. George Coghill said:

    Thanks for sharing this, just what I was looking for and works great! I do notice that I need to invoke the move command from the menu item sometimes to get the shortcut to work. Not sure if this happens randomly, or after a relaunch of Mail. Or perhaps a reboot of the Mac. Once it’s working, perfect.

  2. Mike Stacey said:

    I found this link from a tip regarding restoring the bounce option for mail messages. However I can’t see how to get the button to call a service such as “Bounce email message” from within the mail app. I don’t want to “move” the message I want to bounce it out of mail altogether.

  3. phil said:

    F A R too complicated…..LION is the most messed up OS since 10.o. Some Geek
    inside Apple is sabitoging

  4. Peter O'Mara said:

    Hi Graham.

    V.useful shortcut tips.

    Much appreciated.

    Just wondering how I might make a keyboard shortcut allowing me to provide an attachment to an email.

    Could you please advise.


    • George Coghill said:

      That’s already built-in: Command-Shift-A

      If you look at the items in the menus, they show you which menu items have keyboard shortcuts assigned to them already (to the far right of the menu item name).

  5. Benny Rietveld said:

    Hello there,

    What I was really looking to do, and can’t seem to find a way yet, is to select a message (in Mail), and have a keyboard shortcut to give me the nested folder submenu so I can scroll down and choose any folder I want (via the Down Arrow key or by typing the first few letters of the folder, as I normally do).

    I would even be happy with a dialog box of some kind. :)


  6. Jim Zerkle said:

    Ok, I figured out how to change an existing shortcut key, e.g. for “Send”. Obviously, everyone knows how to do that and I am just behind the power curve.

    This interesting point is that, just like with the shortcut for the ‘Move To’ command, one must ‘light up’, i.e. select, the ‘Message’ menu once before the new shortcut key will work. Annoying, but better than the clumsy command-shift-D combination (who ever came up with “D” for “Send”?).

  7. Jim Zerkle said:

    I find same behavior as Bowjest and Miraz do.
    To ‘activate’ the added shortcut, must light up the ‘Move To’ menu.

    But I have a more-generic question. Why does adding this shortcut, using the procedure defined by Graham, happen to add a command to the ‘Move To’ menu? Nothing in the procedure indicates that this should be added to ‘Move To’. Is this just a default case?

    What I am really interested in is how to change an existing shortcut key; e.g. I want to change from the clumsy command-shift-D (for ‘Send’) to command-Return. I would even accept adding this shortcut (instead of a replacement).

    • Miraz Jordan said:

      Bowjest emailed:


      I’m glad I’m not the only one.

      Thanks for taking the time to post your experience of this.


  8. Graham McKay said:

    Hi Bowjest,

    I think the most likely reason for your symptom is that you’ve got conflicting keyboard shortcuts. ie. two actions assigned to the same keypress. The application will then be deactivating one or the other depending on which one it “sees” first or last. (I’m not sure of the exact precedence rules.)

    This can be demonstrated by assigning your own action to a common keypress such as cmd-S. If you then look in the File menu dropdown there’ll be no shortcut next to it. Restart the app and the cmd-S shortcut can be seen in that dropdown again, but only until the app is reminded that there is another shortcut that takes precedence.

    Hope that helps.


    • Miraz Jordan said:

      Bowjest emailed:

      Thanks for your mail. I thought that, too, but after going back and checking all the keyboard shortcuts, I can’t find a conflict with any of the established Mail shortcuts.

      I’ve even gone back and re-assigned new shortcuts with different keys (after checking any conflicts, of course), but still the problem persists.

      The shortcuts I’ve assigned are “ctrl+H” and “alt+H”, but neither of them works until I manually move something to the target folder first. After that, the shortcuts work only for the duration of that session.



    • Miraz Jordan said:

      Bowjest emailed:

      I’ve managed to get this to work without remapping the shortcuts each time, but I do have to put focus on a message, click on Message in the toolbar at the top, then Move To so that my folders list is visible (but not actually choose one) and then the shortcuts work.

      Tedious, but better than having to actually move the message or remap the shortcuts each day before I open Mail.

      No idea why this is happening, but if you have any further suggestions, I’d be glad to hear them.

      • Graham McKay said:

        Hmm – certainly the behaviour you’re describing is exactly what I observe when I deliberately set up a conflict as described above. I’ve checked that ctrl+H works fine for me, so it’s not related to that key combo conflicting with the standard OS keys.

        These settings are stored in a preference file ( – so possibly that file has a piece of junk/corruption in it that is causing the initial read of the keyboard settings (NSUserKeyEquivalents) to go wrong. You might like to check for any obvious problem with that preference file using a tool such as Preferential Treatment (

        A Google search shows at least one other person out there in internet land that found the same issue as you (different key combo) but no resolution was attached.

        Sorry I can’t help any further than that.


        • Miraz Jordan said:

          Bowjest emailed:

          Thanks for your further help.

          I used that program, but could find not problems with any of my prefs files.

          I’ve also gone back and checked all the keyboard mappings across my system, but I can’t find any conflicts. I’ve even set up new shortcuts that I know aren’t being used (alt+< - for example), but the problem still persists. However, as I found previously, If I just take a moment to click on Message, Move To and then use the shortcuts, all is fine. Oh, well. At least it works. :)

          Thanks for your help.

  9. bowjest said:

    Hi Graham,

    Thanks for posting this tip. I set it up as described and it worked great….until I closed Mail and then re-opened it. Afterwards, using the shortcuts I had set up only advances the highlighting to the next message in my inbox that has a sender with the same letter as my shortcut.

    If I remove the shortcut, set it up again it works again – but only for that particular Mail session. Any ideas what might be wrong?



Comments are closed.