I have a Macbook Air with Mac OSX 10.8.2 . I have been wondering how do I select the File Menu which I am so used to doing in Windows using Alt+F, so that I do not have to click on the File menu each time I need to do something. I googled and checked out a bunch of articles as well. This Wikipedia article suggests http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Table_of_keyboard_shortcuts

CTRL+F2 then F. I tried this in Sublime Text and did not work for me. Any clues?

  • 1
    Well there is the tag Keyboard Shortcuts which defines it as "Keyboard shortcuts provide quick access to application or system actions via combinatorial key presses." Which already has 1548 questions. So how is this offtopic? Please stop this bullying.
    – pal4life
    Nov 10, 2012 at 21:29
  • Sublime Text isn't very "Mac"--I'm not surprised. If you want to open the file menu from the keyboard, you'll have to turn on "Full Keyboard Access" under "Keyboard Shortcuts" in the Keyboard pane of System Preferences. You can then use Ctrl+F2 to get to the menu bar.
    – nielsbot
    Nov 10, 2012 at 22:27
  • 1
    You could use the keyboard shortcut for the Help » Search menu item (probably Cmd-?) and just type the text of the menu item you're looking for. You can also assign custom keyboard shortcuts to menu items, either directly in Sublime Text's configuration, or (for most other programs) in System Preferences » Keyboard » Keyboard Shortcuts » Applications.
    – Daniel Beck
    May 9, 2013 at 15:15

5 Answers 5


On OS X, anything that has a keyboard shortcut will be shown next to the relative task.

To access and browse the upper menu bar it is CtrlF2. You will see the  icon highlight and you are able to browse the menus with the arrow keys at that point.

If you have the function keys set as special function keys, eg. dim display, play/pause, etc. you either must change them to perform as standard function keys in System Preferences » Keyboard or use the shortcut fnCtrlF2.

  • 2
    Good one. Does not exactly do as I was looking for. Cause this will not cause the file menu to drop down. Wondering if that is even possible in Macbook Air?
    – pal4life
    Nov 19, 2012 at 7:31
  • @pal4life Press right arrow to move the selection to the File menu bar item, then press return or down arrow to open the menu. There are no menu bar item specific mnemonic keys (i.e. what's underlined on Windows).
    – Daniel Beck
    May 9, 2013 at 15:13
  • 2
    Instead of arrowing over, once you Cmd+F2, you can press the first letter of the menu you wish to jump to to select that menu. Not as convenient as Windows, but you make due with what you got. :/ Aug 4, 2014 at 5:29
  • When I pressed <kbd>Ctrl</kbd> + <kbd>F2</kbd> it didn't open the File menu like <kbd>Alt</kbd> + <kbd>F</kbd> would in Windows. Can someone help me understand how this hotkey works?
    – Catto
    Apr 20, 2016 at 20:45

I also miss the ease at which I could navigate Windows menus from the keyboard :(

A couple people mentioned that you can use ctrl-F2 to get to the menu bar. This seems really awkward to me, so I took the advice of this CNET article and changed it to option-downArrow. As the article mentions, the advantage to this shortcut is that after using it, your finger is now ready for more navigation via the arrow keys. Of course you can change it to what ever seems easiest to you.

From the article, here is how to change your keyboard shortcut to access the menus:

To do this, open the Keyboard system preferences, and in the Keyboard Shortcuts section, select the Keyboard category. Then locate the option called "Move focus to the menu bar" and ensure it is checked. Then click the "^F2" hot key text so it highlights, then press the hot key of choice.

It's not perfect but it's pretty good.

  • 6
    At least someone is thinking about the actual amount of work/time/keystrokes required to do this EXTREMELY common task. I do like the idea of re-using the same keys. Tired of mac apologists not recognizing this lack of hotkeys as a huge huge minus on mac. I dumped os/x for several years due to this issue. Aug 20, 2015 at 0:52
  • The control alt down shortcut (cnet) is good. Safari seems to interfere with this.
    – redochka
    Jun 21 at 14:07

To access the File menu:

  • press CtrlShiftF2 (brings focus the  icon in the top left of your screen)
  • press f ("f" for "file" - brings focus to the File menu)
  • press (opens the File menu)
  • press the first letter of the item you want, or press until you reach the item
  • press to move to the next menu (open/closed state of menu is maintained)

Menu items can be accessed by using the first letter of the name of the item, as can items within the menu once the menu is opened.

For example, to access File > Export hit CtrlShiftF2, f, , e

  • 11
    Your answer really works. Unfortunately, I will have my 6 fingers to achieve this. This can't be called short cut. It is Yoga. I felt Windows shortcuts are more matured when compared to Mac
    – Raghav
    Nov 18, 2018 at 21:42
  • This works but is completely impractical. I will add an answer on changing the shortcut to access menu items Feb 9, 2020 at 20:09
  • 2
    In MacBook Pro with touchbar, this is even more painful, with the additional <kbd>fn</kbd> thrown in! I miss the <kbd>ALT</kbd> key functionality from Windows.
    – Shiyaz
    Apr 28, 2020 at 9:21
  • Ctrl-F2 should do. no need for Shift. At least on my Ventura 13.4.1
    – LosManos
    Jun 30 at 13:41

The answer from @Bohemian is correct - but not practical. You will want to change the key-binding for accessing the menu:

Type keyboard in Spotlight and select the Shortcuts tab:

enter image description here

The one you want to change is Move focus to the menu bar : I have chosen Ctl-; that is much more do-able than the crazy default finger pattern

enter image description here

This only reduces the pain of accessing menu items. They are still v clumsy versus counterparts on Linux variants as well as windows, the defunct OS/2 etc.

This is an ongoing HUGE miss by Apple - and it shows their disdain for keyboardists and accessibility (not to mention carpal tunnel issues) - by disallowing use of the keyboard to access the many menu items in complex applications. Intellij, Pycharm, and friends have well over one hundred menu items: it is far out of possible to create - let alone remember - that many custom shortcuts. Apple instead doubles down on their keyboard mnemonics bashing by insisting that developers remove them - even from applications originally intended for other operating systems.

Note: I have been using Macos full time 7 days/week since 2013 - and had already run into this problem - and found it essentially unsolvable - in 2010. It is not a matter of "education" about so-called alternatives.

  • I agree with you wholeheartedly but there is a good workaround for JetBrains products. Hit shift 2 times and you'll open "Search Everywhere". You can search for filenames, settings, menu items, etc. I use it all the time. It's incredibly helpful and will show you the keyboard shortcut of the action you're looking for.
    – Matt
    Apr 4, 2021 at 21:56
  • oh! i forgot about shift-shift Apr 4, 2021 at 22:52

I work with both Windows and macOS, and I actually understand and agree with Apple's unwillingness to universally dedicate a lot of alt-letter combinations to the top(not items on drop-down menus) menu bar items, because many programs would override them for their own purposes anyway and that means a great risk that you involuntarily call upon a really undesirable operation(as you may have experienced in Windows) that may or may not be undone without a lot of work.

That being said, there's a huge difference between using alt-letter combinations when the focus is on the program vs. when it's on the menu bar: Windows actually ignores the alt modifier key there; once the focus has moved to the menu bar, pressing the first character(no alt modifier key needed) of the current menu items as shortcuts to those items can(and should, IMHO) work the same as in Windows without risks(including underlining alternate shortcut characters).

The one thing that's really infuriating to me though, is that macOS doesn't respond to repeatedly pressing down on the same key; for instance, on the menu bar of my favourite editor there's an item 'Edit' and another one named 'Editor'.

When I press e, focus moves to the 'Edit' item(not opening its drop-down menu though), but when I press e agin, it doesn't move to the 'Editor' menu as it would in Windows: in stead, it moves to 'File'. At the next e, it has stopped responding to e. And if you play around a little with different letters in your menu bar, you'll find that the results are completely random: it's not even consistent, in any manner. Same thing goes for the first characters in all drop-down menus.

I've found a few peculiarities though:
• A moves focus to the apple, unless a drop-down menu is open
• Ctrl-F moves right(as in Forward); so does Ctrl-I
• Ctrl-B moves left(as in Backward)
• Ctrl-C and Ctrl-M opens a drop-down menu, if there is one at the current position; if a drop-down menu is already open, they leave the menu bar
• If a drop-down menu is open, the "Move focus to the menu bar" key(whatever it is) closes all drop-down menus but does NOT leave the menu bar
• Escape always leaves the menu bar, regardless of current position.

In Windows, Alt+spacebar opens the ubiquitous 'Window' drop-down menu on the menu bar. It's not very interesting because the options there you'll know by heart if you're a keyboard wiz.
However, I like to go there as a starting point when I'm not sure where to find the stuff I'm looking for or I'm just exploring the menus.
Therefore, in macOS I prefer alt+space as well for the "Move focus to the menu bar", for convenience.

The most useful information here for me is how powerful the >Help >Search is: that's complete news to me, fantastic. 👍
I've dedicated Ctrl-1 to the Help menu now: knowing the Windows equivalent, F1, in my sleep, Ctrl-1 is easy to remember both in terms of the key's amount (1) and its proximity to F1.

  • On my Ventura 13.4.1 repeatedly pressing the same letter (e in your example) switches between the items in the menu. At least Apple has implemented that. At last Apple has implemented that.
    – LosManos
    Jun 30 at 13:45

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .