How to Use the Handy Text Substitution Feature in Mac
You took the first step — buying technology. Now all you have to do is master it. We’re here to help, with tips and tricks you may have missed. If you know them already — well done, guru! But, if not, there’s no better time to start learning than right now.
Skill Level: Beginner
The very useful Text Substitution feature autoreplaces one thing you type with something else. Why? Because it can do any of these things:
1. Insert the proper typographical symbols
For example, the Mac can insert attractive “curly quotes” automatically as you type “straight ones,” or em dashes—like this—when you type two hyphens (-- like that). It can also insert properly typeset fractions (like ½) when you type “1/2.”
You can see the list of built-in substitutions—and create your own—in the System Preferences > Keyboard > Text tab, as shown in the figure below.
Apple doesn’t want to drive you nuts, though, so it makes sure you’re sure you really want these swappings to take place. So you have to turn on each of these features manually, in each program. (These commands are available anywhere you do a lot of typing, like TextEdit, Mail, and Stickies.)
Auto-quotes. To make the quotes curlify themselves, choose Edit > Substitutions > Smart Quotes, so that a checkmark appears.
Auto-dashes. To turn double hyphens into these (—) long dashes, choose Edit > Substitutions > Smart Dashes, so that a checkmark appears.
Smart links. There’s also an option to create smart links, where any Web address you type turns into a blue, underlined, clickable link to a Web page. Turn on Edit > Substitutions > Smart Links.
2. Replace abbreviations with much longer phrases
You can program “addr” to type your entire return address. Create two-letter abbreviations for big legal or technical words you have to type a lot. Set up “goaway” to type out a polite rejection letter for use in email. And so on.
This feature has been in Microsoft Office forever (called AutoCorrect), and it’s always been available as a shareware add-on (TypeIt4Me and TextExpander, for example). But now it’s built right into most Apple programs, plus any others that use Apple’s text-input plumbing.
You build your list of abbreviations in the System Preferences > Keyboard > Text tab, shown in the above figure. See the list at left? Click the + button to create a new row in the scrolling table of substitutions.