How to use typing shortcuts on the Mac

How to use typing shortcuts on the Mac
Sunday, 02 September 2012

Your Mac can type text for you, by using macros. That means you type a few letters of your choosing and the Mac automatically replaces them with something different. This is specially handy if you often type teh instead of the, for example. Guest author Zaheer Mohiuddin explains how to access and use symbol and text substitution in OS X.

Zaheer Mohiuddin. Zaheer Mohiuddin is a sophomore at University of California, Irvine. When he’s not working on his multiple tech projects, you can catch him photoblogging the world. Follow him on Twitter @zm99.

In an attempt to streamline my advanced customer support system *ahem* email for my side project, I started looking for some text expansion tools. If you’re not looking for something too fancy that just works, the built-in Mac (I believe it was introduced in Lion) text expander is great.

Miraz adds: if you need macros that go beyond the simple then see Book Review: Take Control of TextExpander, Cut your work in half: TextExpander types text for you and Type routine text with TextExpander.

Set up the built-in text expander

Here’s how to set up the built-in macros:

  1. Go to System Preferences and click on the Language & Text pane.
  2. Click on the Text tab.
  3. Make sure Use symbol and text substitution is checked.
The text substitution window.

The text substitution window.

Symbol substitution

In the Text pane you should see a list of items the Mac will substitute for you. It may include symbols such as © and perhaps fractions. Any that are checked will be automatically substituted when you type them.

For example, open a text editor such as TextEdit and type (c). Then keep typing. When you look back in a moment or two you should see your Mac has automatically changed the (c) to ©.

Miraz notes: In my experiments while testing this Tip I found the Mac didn’t instantly change the typed characters. I had to actually type a little more before the change occurred.

Add new substitutions

You’re not limited to the built-in substitutions though.

  1. Choose the Text tab in the top row and click + below the list to add a new text expansion.
  2. Choose a unique phrase to trigger your text expansion. Tip: use symbols or less common letters to avoid accidental expansions. For example, use :sig to expand to your email signature. If you try to use just sig then any time you type words such as sign or significant you’ll get a surprise.
Use a symbol to avoid triggering the expansion when you would prefer not to.

Use a symbol to avoid triggering the expansion when you would prefer not to.


  • I found it easiest to type my text in a text editor and then paste it in the window. You avoid having to type in a tiny box and dealing with new lines.
  • If you choose to type your expansion in the window: To add a new-line break use Control (⌃) Return and leave a full line in between the lines you want to break.

For example:


    Zaheer M.


    Zaheer M.

This Tip was originally published as Free Mac Text Expansion Tool (Built-In). It has been edited for inclusion here.

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