The Magic of Mac’s Option Key

Dr. Mac’s Rants & Raves
Episode #389

I was listening to my favorite podcast (Mac Geek Gab) and heard a tip that involved pressing the Option key while selecting a menu item or adding the Option key to a keyboard shortcut. Either way, you get a different result than if you did not press Option.

Moving vs. Copying Files or Folders

For example, the tip on Mac Geek Gab explained how to move a file or folder using the Copy and Paste commands. Without the option key, you can use the Copy command to copy most files or folders from one location to another. But, that leaves you with two copies of the same file or folder in two different places on your disk. It would be nice if you could use the Cut command to move the file instead of duplicating it, but the Cut command isn’t available when you select a file or folder…

The solution is to hold down the Option key before you paste the file or folder. When you do, the Paste command in the Edit menu changes from “Paste” to “Move Item Here.” Or, add the Option key to the Paste keyboard shortcut (press Command + Option + V) to move the item instead of copying it.

The Edit menu with (left) and without (right) the Option key.
The Edit menu with (left) and without (right) the Option key.

Close All Windows at Once

Another Option key shortcut works with the Close Window command. If you press Option before choosing FileClose Window, the command transforms into Close All and closes all open windows instead of closing only the active window. I like this one so much I memorized its keyboard shortcut—Command + Option + W—and use it regularly.

To discover even more Option key magic, click to open a menu and then press the Option key and look for commands that have changed. For example, if you click the Finder’s File menu and then press Option, these commands change:

    • Open becomes Open and Close Window, which is handy when you don’t want a disk or folder icon to open in a separate window or tab.
    • Get Info becomes Show Inspector. The Inspector is a context-sensitive rendition of the Get Info window that updates in real-time to reflect the currently selected item (or items) in the Finder. In other words, rather than selecting an item and choosing Get Info, with the Inspector, you can just click any icon (or icons) and the Inspector updates to display the info for whatever is currently selected.
    • Open With becomes Always Open With.
    • Add to Dock becomes Add to Sidebar.
    • Move to Trash becomes Delete Immediately.
The File menu with (left) and without (right) the Option key.
The File menu with (left) and without (right) the Option key.

By the way, this Option key magic isn’t limited to the Finder—the Option key also changes some commands in many Apple apps. To find these hidden shortcuts, open a bundled app, open a menu, and then press the Option key and observe which commands change. (Hint: You’ll find most of them in the File or Window menu).

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