I'm still a new Mac owner, and I've struggled with the message windows / boxes / popups that sometimes appear and ask me to choose an option, like "save" "don't save" and "cancel" in TextEdit's case. I noticed I can't use the arrow keys to navigate these buttons, but pressing Enter will choose the default option and ESC will choose the "cancel" option. Is there any way to control this with the keyboard? Or are the Apple engineers forcing me to use a mouse / trackpad?

3 Answers 3


This is really annoying I can tell, but you can tab through dialog boxes.

Go to "System Preferences" > "Keyboard & Shrotcuts".

At the very bottom there will be an option saying about "full keyboard access". Check the radio button that says “All Controls” and here you go

  • 1
    Then the <Tab> key helps you to choose the button you want, and <Spacebar> to validate your choice.
    – Rabskatran
    Jul 26, 2010 at 14:50
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    Oh this is just awesome. Thanks! What a relief! Jul 26, 2010 at 15:12

Most applications will also accept some keyboard commands for those dialog boxes:

  • Esc for Cancel
  • Return for the default (blue) button (usually Save)
  • Command-D for Don't Save.

Press enter for the highlighted button in a message dialog and space for the outlined one. Or press escape to abort/cancel.

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