Your computer's keyboard has around 110 keys by which you can make your wishes known to the machine. Most of these have obvious labels: if you press the A key, the letter A appears on the screen. Some are less obvious, though — the Shift key and the mysterious Ctrl key — and in this article I'll explore why they're named what they're named.
Long before computers, many practical issues about using a machine to write had already been worked out for the typewriter. If you've never used a typewriter, you might be interested in this video that shows one in action.
In a typewriter, the paper is rolled around a platen that's part of a carriage that can move right and left. Letters are cut onto slender pieces of metal called typebars. Pressing a key on the keyboard causes the corresponding typebar to hit the paper through an inked ribbon. After the typebar hits the paper, the carriage moves to the left by one letter.
Early on, people learned to cut two letters on a single typebar. When you press a key, the lower letter strikes the paper. But you can also press a key to raise — or shift — the carriage, which causes the upper letter on the typebar to hit the paper instead. Thus the Shift key was born. (In the video, you can see the carriage being shifted for the very first letter that's typed, at 00:12.)
When the typist reaches the end of a line, he or she uses a lever to return the carriage to the left and advance (feed) the paper up one line (00:29 in the video). When manual typewriters were eventually electrified, this somewhat laborious action was reduced to a single keystroke: the Return key.
Return key on IBM Selectric typewriter [Source]
While the typewriter was becoming a ubiquitous office tool, inventive minds in the communications industry were developing the teletypewriter (branded as Teletype, which became a generic term for it) as an improvement on the telegraph for sending electronic messages. With Teletypes, an operator far away could type a message and then send it. On the receiving end, another Teletype machine would come to life and clatter away, typing out the message.
To send signals over a wire, the Teletype machine represented each character as a numeric value. A standard set of codes developed (the ASCII chart), where 32 is a space, 46 is a period (.), 65 is the letter A, 97 is the letter a, and so on. Here's a chart of those values. (I realize that looking at charts is stultifying, but bear with me; it will become more interesting in a few moments.)
Most of the characters in the chart are ones you'd find on a typewriter. But the first 32 characters are cryptic, like BEL, HT, LF, and CR. These are known as control characters — signals that could be sent to the Teletype machine not for display, but to control how it operates. For example, STX (2) is the "start of text" character; HT (9) is "horizontal tab"; CR (13) is "carriage return"; LF (11) is "line feed"; and BEL (7) is "bell" — that is, ring the bell. When an operator originally typed the message, he or she would get to the end of a line and press a return key, just like with a typewriter. This embedded a CR character (carriage return) and a LF character (linefeed) into the message at that point. When the message was received by another Teletype machine and printed out, the control characters embedded in the message told the machine when to return the carriage and feed a new line. The message might also include other control characters for functions like inserting a tab, starting a new page (FF or form feed), and so on.
Back to our naming story. Early Teletype keyboards were comparatively primitive (they included only uppercase letters), so they included a Ctrl key that let the operator embed control characters into a message.
Teletype keyboard [Source]
The way it worked was clever: if the operator held down the Ctrl key while typing a character, the Teletype machine in effect subtracted 64 from the value of that letter. Glance again at the chart from earlier. Let's say that the operator wanted a horizontal tab (9). The operator could press Ctrl and I (73) at the same time. To create a page break/form feed (12), the operator pressed Ctrl+L. To embed a character to ring the bell, the operator used Ctrl+G.
Early Teletype machines didn't even have lowercase letters, but when those were added, the machines used a similar technique to let users specify uppercase letters — that is, to encode the action of the Shift key. Holding down the Shift key while typing a letter subtracted 32 from the value. If you look at the ASCII chart, you'll see that the values of uppercase and lowercase letters differ by 32, so that a (97) becomes A (65). (This explanation is simplified somewhat, I should note.)
When computers were developed, it was natural to adapt the encoding scheme and the keyboard of Teletype machines for input and output. Teletype machines quickly gave way to terminals, and along the way, the Return key became the Enter key, because it no longer had much to do with returning the carriage and instead was about entering (sending) a command for the computer.
These days, of course, we no longer need to encode control characters by hand. (Although we do still use the Shift key for its original purpose of creating capital letters, albeit no longer by physically shifting a carriage.) Most programs that you use on your computer have more interesting uses for the Ctrl key than ringing the bell or embedding a tab. For example, Ctrl+i, which would produce ASCII value 9 (for the tab), is used in many Windows programs to format text using italics.
But deep under the covers, you can still find traces of the old Teletype machines. If you have a Windows computer, open Notepad and try entering some control codes — for example, press Ctrl+Shift+m to insert a carriage return, and Ctrl+Shift+i to insert a tab. And don't forget to press Ctrl+Shift+g to produce a beep, which is the modern equivalent of the typewriter's old bell.
If you can actually put your hands on an old typewriter or Teletype machine, they feel like fossils from an earlier age. Still, it's pleasing to me that when you tap away at your keyboard (even a virtual keyboard on a tablet computer), there's still a direct line, both technically and etymologically, between those keys and machines of the pre-computer era.
Ctrl,shift and alt are called Modifier keys.What are the control keys on a keyboard? ›
The most frequently used control keys are Ctrl, Alt, the Windows logo key , and Esc. Function keys. The function keys are used to perform specific tasks.How do you press Return on a keyboard? ›
Where Is the Return Key on Your Keyboard? Typically, the Enter button is located to the right side of the 3 key and the . key on the lower-right corner of the numeric keypad. And you can find the return key on the right side of the main alphanumeric portion of the keyboard.What is the shift 9 on the keyboard? ›
Shift+9 is a keyboard shortcut to create an open parenthesis.What does Ctrl Shift key do? ›
Ctrl + Shift Switch the keyboard layout. Ctrl + Shift + Esc Open Task Manager. Ctrl + F4 Close the active window.What is Ctrl Shift tab used for? ›
If you want to restore multiple tabs, or if you need a tab you closed a while ago, just keep pressing Ctrl+Shift+T and your tabs will reappear in the order in which they were closed.What are the 20 shortcuts? ›
- Ctrl+W: Close.
- Ctrl+A: Select all.
- Alt+Tab: Switch apps.
- Alt+F4: Close apps.
- Win+D: Show or hide the desktop.
- Win+left arrow or Win+right arrow: Snap windows.
- Win+Tab: Open the Task view.
- Tab and Shift+Tab: Move backwards and forward through options. etc.
abbreviation for control: a key on a computer keyboard that you press with other keys to make the computer carry out a particular action: To insert an acute accent, press and hold Ctrl, tap the single quote key, release Ctrl and type the letter.How many special keys are there on a keyboard? ›
A keyboard has how many special keys? The count of unique keys that must be present on a keyboard is not limited by any computer technology standards. About 12 and 20 special keys are often found on keyboards.Which one is the return key? ›
The enter key is typically located to the right of the 3 and . keys on the lower right of the numeric keypad, while the return key is situated on the right edge of the main alphanumeric portion of the keyboard.
The Enter key was originally the "Return key" on a typewriter, which caused the carriage to return to the beginning of the next line on the paper.What is the control return key? ›
Almost all computer keyboards have a key marked Return or Enter; the two names are synonymous. The Return key moves the cursor (or insertion point) to the beginning of the next line. But more important, it returns control to whatever program is currently running.What does Shift and F11 do? ›
Shift+F11 inserts a new worksheet. Alt+F11 opens the Microsoft Visual Basic For Applications Editor, in which you can create a macro by using Visual Basic for Applications (VBA). F12 Displays the Save As dialog box.What does Ctrl Shift F9 do? ›
The Ctrl+Shift+F9 keyboard shortcut to unlink a field or text in Microsoft Word.What does Shift F12 mean? ›
Shift+F12 is a keyboard shortcut to save an open document in Microsoft Office programs.What is the F8 key used for? ›
F8: Forwards the e-mail in the active window. Switches between the standard function key commands (F LOCK light on) and the Microsoft keyboard enhanced commands (F LOCK light off). Leave it on or off, or alternate between modes for increased key press functionality. F1: Opens the Help system for the active window.What is the function of Ctrl Shift +=? ›
Ctrl+Shift+= The Ctrl+Shift+= or Ctrl+Shift++ keyboard shortcut is used to set selected text as superscript in Microsoft Word.What is the Ctrl Shift B shortcut? ›
The Ctrl+Shift+B keyboard shortcut is used in Internet browsers to hide and show the bookmark bar.Which are the 5 basic shortcut keys? ›
- Copy: Ctrl + C.
- Cut: Ctrl + X.
- Paste: Ctrl + V.
- Maximize Window: F11 or Windows logo key + Up arrow.
- Open Task View: Windows logo key + Tab.
- Display and hide the desktop: Windows logo key + D.
- Switch between open apps: Alt + Tab.
- Open the Quick Link menu: Windows logo key + X.
- - Top 10 Keyboard Shortcuts -
- Ctrl+C or Ctrl+Insert and Ctrl+X. Both Ctrl+C and Ctrl+Insert will copy highlighted text or a selected item. ...
- Ctrl+V or Shift+Insert. ...
- Ctrl+Z and Ctrl+Y. ...
- Ctrl+F. ...
- Alt+Tab or Ctrl+Tab. ...
- Ctrl+Backspace and Ctrl+Left or Right arrow. ...
- Ctrl+Z : Undo. Irrespective of what you are doing, or where you are doing it, Ctrl + Z is a lifesaver. ...
- Ctrl + A : Select All. ...
- Ctrl + C : Copy. ...
- Ctrl + V : Paste. ...
- Ctrl + X : Cut. ...
- Alt + Tab : Switch Screen/Tabs. ...
- Ctrl + Alt + Del : Start Task Manager. ...
- Alt + F4 : Close App.
F4 – Alt + F4 closes the active window. F5 – Allows you to refresh or reload the page or document window. F6 – Moves the cursor to the address bar in most Internet browsers. F7 – Used to spell check and grammar check a document in Microsoft Apps (e.g. Word).What does Ctrl 5 stand for? ›
In Microsoft Word, pressing Ctrl + 5 changes a line, paragraph, or all highlighted text to have 1.5 spaces per line.What does Ctrl G stand for? ›
Updated: 05/01/2023 by Computer Hope. Alternatively known as Control+G, ^g, and C-g, Ctrl+G is a keyboard shortcut to advance through Find results or move to a specific line in a document, spreadsheet, or text file.What are 4 special keys? ›
- Keys on the computer keyboard.
- Alt Key. A computer key that you press together with another key so that the other key does something different from what it usually does. ...
- Arrow Key. ...
- Backspace. ...
- Caps Lock. ...
- Character Set. ...
- Command Key. ...
An 88-key piano has seven octaves plus three lower notes (B, B flat and A) below the bottom C. It has 52 white keys and 36 black keys (sharps and flats), with each octave made up of seven white keys and five black keys.What symbol is on the 7 key on a keyboard? ›
The ampersand ( & ) symbol, also known as the "epershand" or "and" symbol, is found above the number 7 key on a US QWERTY keyboard.What is the Ctrl Shift C? ›
Copy the selected formatting. Ctrl+Shift+C. Paste the selected formatting. Ctrl+Shift+V. Copy the header or footer used in the previous section of the document.What are the 12 function keys? ›
- Ctrl+F: Use Find and Replace to search in a spreadsheet.
- Alt+F: Navigate to the File menu.
- Alt+H: Navigate to the Home tab.
- Alt+N: Navigate to the Insert tab.
- Alt+P: Navigate to the Page Layout tab.
- Alt+M: Navigate to the Formulas tab.
- Alt+A: Navigate to the Data tab.
It is typically labelled with the word "Refresh" or the symbol "⟳". The primary purpose of the F5 key is to refresh or reload the content displayed on a computer screen. This is most commonly used in web browsers to reload the current web page, ensuring that the latest version of the page is displayed.
Ctrl F1 Select all items on screen. Ctrl F2 Deselect all items on screen. Ctrl F3 Start/end of block. Select the first item; click the button.
The Ctrl+Shift+F10 keyboard shortcut to show or hide the transparency panel in Adobe Illustrator.What is Shift F4? ›
Shift+F4 is a keyboard shortcut to repeat the last find or go to action in Microsoft Word.What does Alt Shift D do? ›
Alt+Shift+D or Shift+Alt+D is a keyboard shortcut to insert the date field code in Microsoft Word.What is F11 keys? ›
The F11 key allows you to activate full-screen mode in your browser. By pressing it again, you will return to the standard view with the menu bar. In Microsoft Excel, you can use the Shift key with F11 to quickly create a new spreadsheet in a new tab.What type of case are Ctrl and Shift? ›
The correct option is Modifier. Modifier keys in a standard keyboard are Alt, Shift and Ctrl keys which are found in the last row placed on the both sides of the spacebar. These keys are generally used in combination with other keys to perform a particular function.Are Ctrl Shift and Alt called modifiers? ›
The correct answer is Modifier keys. It is a special key on a computer keyboard that temporarily modifies the normal action of another key when pressed together. For e.g, Shift, Alt, or Ctrl keys are the modifier keys.Are Ctrl Shift and Alt called modifier keys? ›
The correct answer is Modifier. A modifier key is a key that modifies the action of another key when the two are pressed together. Common modifier keys include Shift, Control, Alt, Command, Option, and Function.What are all the modifier keys? ›
On a Windows keyboard, the modifier keys are Shift, Alt, Control, and the Windows key. On a Mac keyboard, the modifier keys are Shift, Control, Option, and Command (often called the Apple key).What is three finger salute in computer? ›
Control-Alt-Delete (often abbreviated to Ctrl+Alt+Del and sometimes called the "three-finger salute" or "Security Keys") is a computer keyboard command on IBM PC compatible computers, invoked by pressing the Delete key while holding the Control and Alt keys: Ctrl + Alt + Delete .
Modifier keys on personal computers. The most common are: ⇧ Shift. ⌃ Ctrl (Control) ⎇ Alt (Alternate) – also labelled ⌥ Option on Apple keyboards.What are the Ctrl Alt Shift keys? ›
Copy a reference (a relative path) of a symbol to the Clipboard.
The Alt key Alt (pronounced /ɔːlt/ AWLT or /ʌlt/ ULT) on a computer keyboard is used to change (alternate) the function of other pressed keys. Thus, the Alt key is a modifier key, used in a similar fashion to the Shift key.What is the name of the key between Alt and Ctrl? ›
In computing, the menu key or application key ( ≣ Menu ) is a key found on Microsoft Windows-oriented computer keyboards, introduced at the same time as the Windows logo key.Which 10 shortcut keys are used most often and why? ›
- Ctrl + Z: Undo.
- Windows Key + E: Open File Explorer.
- Windows Key + L: Lock your screen.
- Windows Key + Up Arrow: Maximize current Windows Key.
- Ctrl + Shift + Esc: Open Task Manager.
- Alt + Tab: Cycle between open windows.
- Alt + F4: Quit active application or close current window.