If you already own a Mac computer or are looking into purchasing one, you’ve probably noticed some differences between the Mac keyboard and the Windows keyboard. Though these differences are benign, and both Mac and Windows computers are capable of carrying out everyday tasks, there are certain symbols on the Mac keyboard that, to most users, remain a mystery.

Believe it or not, these strange symbols have names, and if used properly, can completely alter your Mac usage experience, enabling you to carry out tasks that would probably take a few minutes, in a few seconds, using the appropriate keyboard shortcuts. If you have a recently manufactured Mac model, then the strange symbols on your Mac luckily have a name written on the key.

However, if you own an old Mac model, the keypads will only have the strange Mac keyboard symbols, with no label or name. You’ve probably also seen the strange symbols in the drop-down menus throughout your usage of OS X. What should you call these symbols in plain English, when there aren’t any labels present on your keyboard? What happens if you need to ask a colleague to use one of these symbols? You would fumble as you try to describe the shape and style of the symbol, like a child describing a new shape he or she recently learned.

You also have the option to open a list of all the special characters and symbols your Mac can type, using a simple keystroke, or using the Apple menu. Sometimes numbers and letters aren’t enough to convey your message, and it’s therefore essential to have an understanding of how to use the different symbols Mac offers, especially if you have a career in mathematics, writing, or any other field, that would require the use of special symbols. In order to get started, and learn about the Mac keyboard symbols, and the special characters your Mac is capable of typing, follow along with the educational tutorial below.

Standard Apple Keyboard Symbols

It’s important to first start with the standard keyboard symbols you’ll see on your Mac keyboard and on drop-down menus throughout OS X.

⌘ is the command key
⌥ is the option key
⌃ is the control

⇤ is the backtab key
⏎ is the return
⌤ is the enter key

is the delete
⇧ is the shift
⇪ is the caps lock key

⇞ is the page up key
⇟ is the page down key
⇱ is the home key
⇲ is the end key
⌧ is the clear key
␣ is the space key
⎋ is the escape
⏏ is the eject key
⇥ is the tab key
⌦ is the forward delete
← is the left arrow
→ is the right arrow
↑ is the up arrow
↓ is the down arrow

Access All Special Characters and Symbols Mac can Display

While you can use the keyboard symbols above together, as keyboard shortcuts, that will allow you to insert special symbols and characters into your documents, it can be a headache to have to remember countless different shortcuts.

You can technically Google the keyboard shortcuts in a matter of seconds, but this can be troublesome as well if you have to do it every few minutes. Luckily, there’s an easy way to access all the special symbols and characters available on your Mac.

Believe it or not, you can even access emojis and insert them in your work, and no, I don’t mean only in the Messages application. You can actually insert emojis anywhere where there’s a text field available, excluding secure encrypted text fields. In order to access all the special symbols, characters, and emojis, your Mac offers, follow the instructions below.

1. Click on the Apple Logo in the upper left corner of your screen.

2. From the drop-down menu that appears, click on System Preferences.

3. Click on Keyboard.

4. Ensure that the Keyboard tab is opened.

5. Enable Show keyboard and emoji viewers in menu bar. There should be a check in the checkbox when the option is enabled.

6. Open the text document where you would like to insert an emoji or special character.

7. Position your cursor where you would like to place the emoji or special character.

8. Click on Edit in the top menu bar towards the left.

9. From the drop-down menu that appears, click on Emojis & Symbols. Note: Alternatively, you can also click on Language Flag towards the top right, on the menu bar. From the drop-down menu that appears, click on Show Emojis & Symbols.

You’ll now see the Emoji Keyboard that you’ve probably used countless times in the Messages application, and on your iPhone. Feel free to browse this keyboard in order to find any signs, symbols, or characters that you’d like to use in your work. However, if you find this keyboard a bit confusing to navigate, you also have the option to open a list-like window of all the special characters your Mac can input into your work.

This will make navigation through the special characters very easy to carry out, as the special symbols will be grouped together by category. In order to see this list, follow the instructions above to open the Emoji Keyboard, and then continue to follow the instructions below.

1. Click on the small rectangular icon towards the top right of the Emoji Keyboard. The icon will be next to the Search Bar.

2. A larger window will now open up, with three window panes. Navigate through these windows as you see fit.

You’ll notice that the windowpane all the way towards the left has the categories of all the special symbols you can use in your work. The categories listed, are as follows: Emoji, Arrows, Bullets/Stars, Currency Symbols, Latin, Letterlike Symbols, Math Symbols, Parentheses, Pictographs, and Punctuation.

Click on the category that best suits your needs in order to see all the symbols your Mac has to offer in that specific category. The windowpane all the way towards the right, will show you a large preview of what your selected symbol will look like, while the windowpane in the middle shows the many symbols you can use from the category currently selected.

If there’s a particular symbol that you use very often, you have the option to save that symbol as a favorite. This will allow you to easily access the symbol or symbols, whenever you open the Emoji keyboard. This will save you an immense amount of time, is especially useful if you use only a handful of symbols very often, and have no need for the countless other symbols your Mac has to offer.

In order to save a symbol as a favorite, all you’d have to do is click on the Add to Favorites button on the right most windowpane from the three windowpanes that were described above. Now once you exit out of the large list, using the small rectangular icon towards the top right that was mentioned earlier in this tutorial, you’ll see your selected symbol under the Favorites section of the Emoji Keyboard. If you want to remove a special character from your Favorites section, all you have to do is click on the Remove from Favorites button, which will be in the exact same location as the Add to Favorites button.

While the categories mentioned above contain a large amount of characters and symbols you can use, there are actually many more categories you can choose from. The ones mentioned earlier in this article, were the default ones Mac has enabled you to see. In order to access more categories, follow the instructions below.

1. Follow the steps mentioned above in order to access the three windowpanes that depict the characters and symbols your Mac is capable of inputting.

2. Click on the Settings icon towards the top left of the window. The icon will be shaped like a gear.

3. From the drop-down menu that appears, click on Customize List.

4. A window will pop up, with an extensive list of categories you can choose from. Enable the categories that you feel will be most suitable for your work.

Some of the categories included, but not limited to, are Box Drawing, Braille Patterns, Digits, Geometrical Shapes, Math Symbols, Musical Symbols, Sign/Standard Symbols, and Technical Symbols.

You’ll also notice in the pop-up window that you have the capability to enable European Alphabetic Scripts. Whether you would like to enable Greek, Latin, Armenian or other alphabetic scripts, it’s all possible on your Mac. If you’re not European, under this heading, you can also enable a large amount of Middle Eastern, South Asian, Southwest Asian, African, Ancient and Historic Scripts, and more.

Apple has done an exemplary job of being inclusive to all of the many different cultures around the world, and with the press of a few buttons, you can feel right at home, when typing documents, or writing personal letters to your friends and family on your Mac.