The key on the Macintosh keyboard which is used to type characters which are in the character set but not on the keyboard. For instance, you can type letters with accent marks over them, non-English punctuation, and math symbols.

On a PC you must use a special tool to do this, or else you must memorize character codes.

The Key Caps utility helps you find out what characters are supported in your current encoding and font.

See option-.

The option key is the Mac's principal command modifier key. Not only does it turn e into é etc., it invokes alternate modes on a host of other system and application commands.

For example, command-W closes the frontmost window. Command-option-W closes ALL windows in the frontmost application. Command-click on a window's snap box to snap the window up to only its title bar; command-option-click to snap ALL windows to their title bars.

Many uses of the option key are not documented. That's the Macintosh Way: understand how something works in one program and there's an excellent chance it will work similarly in others without your having to RTFM. Once you realize how ubiquitous the option key is you check for it instinctively and find all sorts of Easter eggs. Credits in Photoshop's About window scrolling by too slowly? Press the option key and they go by twice as fast. Command-I gets info on any selected object, but what if the item is an alias? Command-option-I gets info on the original!

My most-used option trick, though, is this: option-clicking on the desktop hides the frontmost app without a trip to the Application menu. For people who prefer to use the keyboard over the mouse whenever possible, Apple's implementation of the option key is just plain sweet.

One confusing aspect of the option key on modern Macintoshes is that it isn't marked with the word "option", but rather with the cryptic option symbol, which might be represented in ASCII art thus:

_ _
This symbol is surmounted by the word "alt", which means that it is sometimes easier to refer to this key as the alt key. In any case, the key can be easily identified by its position between the control key and the command key.

Despite its unhelpful markings, the option key is a very useful key, as noted above. Key Caps is the best way of finding out what extra characters can be accessed using this key. Most of these are generated simply by typing a letter while holding down the option key, such as å (option + a), ß (option + s) or ƒ (option + f). However, some keys when pressed activate a "mode", which causes the next character typed to be modified in an appropriate way, e.g. pressing option + e will cause the next character typed to have an acute accent, provided the character set has an accented version of that character. I will list the modifier combinations available with the British keyboard layout below:

option + e: The next character typed will be surmounted with an acute accent (á é í ó ú).

option + u: The next character typed will be surmounted with an umlaut (ä ë ï ö ü).

option + i: The next character typed will be surmounted with a circumflex (â ê î ô û).

option + `: The next character typed will be surmounted with a grave/backwards accent (à è ì ò ù).

option + n: The next character typed will be surmounted with a tilde (ã ñ õ).

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