Depending on your system, the word separator characters change the way you can select/delete a word (e.g. by double clicking on it or using a key combination with your keyboard).

The fact is that I hate the default behavior of OSX.

For example:

Take the following line of code:


If my cursor is at the end of the line and I press alt+backspace, it will delete everything and not just innerAttr.

I only found some apps (like iTerm) which let you change the word selection separator characters.

Is there a way to change it for the whole system?


The only difference between the two English options (at least in for ASCII characters) seems to be whether period and colon are treated as part of words.

Part of words:

  • '.:_ in Standard
  • '_ in English (United States, Computer)

Not part of the start or end of words:

  • $+<=>^` in Standard
  • $+<=>^` in English (United States, Computer)
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The answer by user ` is correct for pre-osx-10.9 (I think). However, in OS X 10.9 and later the System Preferences changed a bit. It now looks like this:

Language & Region

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  • 1
    Apple keeps moving this around. This no longer works on 10.13. New solution defaults write .GlobalPreferences AppleTextBreakLocale en_US_POSIX via apple.stackexchange.com/a/124788/15378 – Daniel Jan 25 '19 at 21:16

To the best of my knowledge, selection word separation is done on a per-application basis, not a system-wide basis. iTerm allows you to configure the characters, but that's an extremely unusual option; most applications use the predetermined defaults in the Cocoa and Carbon libraries, which are hard-coded, not drawn from a centralized preference setting.

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  • Well, that's just too bad... – avetis.kazarian Mar 28 '10 at 13:02
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    More importantly, iTerm's preference only affects selecting text in iTerm. It doesn't affect how tty applications move the cursor or edit words. – Chris Page Aug 29 '11 at 12:08
  • Mac is the least usable of the 3 major operating systems for programming. I have used Windows, Linux, and MacOS extensively over the past 5 years and I just can't stand Mac. Apple constantly changes how their system works to the point where SO and third party tools are almost always outdated. – Shadoninja Mar 19 at 14:36

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