Modifier key order

If you write about Mac keyboard shortcuts, as I did yesterday, you should know how to do it right. Just as there’s a proper order for adjectives in English, there’s a proper order for listing the modifier keys in a shortcut.

I haven’t found any documentation for this, but Apple’s preferred order is clear in how they show the modifiers in menus and how they’re displayed in the Keyboard Shortcuts Setting.

Canonical Mac modifier key order

The order is similar to how you see them down at the bottom left of your keyboard.

Modifier keys

Control (⌃), Option (⌥), and Command (⌘) always go in that order. The oddball is the Shift(⇧) key, which sneaks in just in front of Command.

Keyboard Maestro recognizes this standard order and presents its “hot key” shortcut the same way.

Keyboard Maestro hot key field

(When people speak about keyboard shortcuts, it’s not uncommon to put Command first, e.g., “Command-Shift-3 takes a screenshot.” I’ve seen it written out that way, too. Apple is usually pretty careful to use the same order when using words as when using symbols. This page, for example, uses “Shift-Command-3,” to match the ⇧⌘3 you’d see in the Keyboard Shortcut Settings. But even Apple slips up. On the grand Mac keyboard shortcut page, there are a few instances of “Command-Shift” instead of “Shift-Command.”)

The last bit of standard syntax is that the letter key in the shortcut (if there is a letter) is always presented as a capital, even when the Shift key isn’t used. I suspect this was a serious topic of discussion at Bandley 3 back in the early 80s as the Mac was being developed. They got it right. When entering a keyboard shortcut, you’re not typing a letter, you’re pressing a set of physical keys on the keyboard in front of you. The symbols on the letter keys are capitals, so that’s the appropriate way to identify those keys.