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Change Your Mac's Caps Lock Key Into Something Useful

Lifehacker logo Lifehacker 8/8/2022 Jake Peterson
Photo: Aravind Sivaraj (Shutterstock) © Photo: Aravind Sivaraj (Shutterstock) Photo: Aravind Sivaraj (Shutterstock)

These days, caps lock’s main purpose is to make people furious whenever they mistakenly hit it. The key is so unused, in fact, there have been calls for its removal (Google doesn’t even include it on its newer Chromebooks). If you find that your Mac’s caps lock key often serves no purpose other than accidentally TURNING YOU INTO AN ANGRY TYPIST, you might choose to make it more useful.

Why do our computers have caps lock in the first place?

Caps lock used to be useful: Back before computers, we had shift lock on typewriters, which physically shifted and locked the keys into a different position, allowing you to type capitals and secondary characters without needing to hold the shift key. While that made a lot of sense in a time when keys were more cumbersome to press in tandem, things are different with a modern computer keyboard.

For one, caps lock only sticks to typing capital letters, not secondary characters. Two, keys on our keyboards today are much easier to press than those on typewriters—for most able-bodies typists, it takes next to no effort to hold the shift key down while typing the letters you’d like to capitalize, and most of us don’t (intentionally) type in caps all that often.

For a while now, caps lock has been more of a nuisance than a useful key. However, if you’d like to give the key some purpose on your Mac, it’s easy.

How to change caps lock into something else on your Mac

To start, open System Preferences > Keyboard, then choose “Modifier Keys.” Here, you’ll see a series of keys from your keyboard whose action can be changed. The most useful by far, though, is caps lock: Click the caps lock dropdown menu to find the following actions you can assign to the key:

  • Caps Lock
  • Control
  • Option
  • Command
  • Escape
  • Globe
  • No Action

In my opinion, the key action that makes the most sense here is escape: It’s how I first learned about this key-mapping feature, since my MacBook Pro came without a physical escape key. Turning my unused Caps Lock key into an Escape option, however, offered some extra precision I was missing before.

Of course, many MacBooks (and all Bluetooth Magic Keyboards) now have physical escape keys, so you might not see the need for another one. In that case, you could pick from any of the other options, but most of us probably won’t have much need for any of those either. We already have two command keys and two options keys, and while we only have one control key, it’s on the same side of the keyboard as caps lock. Again, redundant.

In that case, the best function for caps lock is, in my view, nothing. Choose “No Action” from the dropdown list, and your caps lock key becomes a tiny museum on your keyboard: one that once had a purpose, but no longer does, lovingly kept aboard despite being ignored. (Is this “something useful,” as promised by the headline of this article? Not accidentally typing in all caps is useful indeed.)

That said, your keyboard is yours: This setting allows you to remap multiple keys to whatever actions you’d like, opening up a host of possibilities for different use cases. If you need five Escape keys, go ham. If you want each key to do something different than the name printed on it, have a ball. Really, anything is better than TYPING IN ALL CAPS WHEN YOU DON’T MEAN TO, HAVING TO CORRECT THE RECORD WITH A HUMBLE “sorry, caps lock.”

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