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On a Mac keyboard, what does the symbol on the key mean?

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

Here's the difference:

  • is the "return" key symbol (default)
  • is the "enter" key symbol (alternative)

Both behave differently but are accessible through the same physical key. Historically, the return key would map to a carriage return, whereas the enter key would map to a newline. Not all applications have to keep this behavior though.

So, on a small Apple Mac keyboard, the same key can perform different functions, although by default the key sends a return—I believe you have to press fn to have it function as an enter key.

On a large Mac keyboard, there are separate keys for both, actually (as can be seen in the image below). The same applies to Windows keyboards, which have the enter key on the numpad.

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On Windows machines, there's Return/Enter (return symbol and enter name/label), as well as Enter on the numpad. The latter sometimes has a different behavior, e.g. in Excel AFAIK, similar to Enter on OS X. Please also note that full-size Apple keyboard contain Enter on the numpad. – Daniel Beck Dec 21 '12 at 20:58
Shift+return isn't normally enter, but fn+return is. – user495470 Dec 22 '12 at 9:42
@Lauri True, thanks. I couldn't test it at the moment I was writing this, but I had fn in the original version. Changed it back, feel free to simply edit minors like these. – slhck Dec 22 '12 at 9:44

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