Control System-Wide Text Substitution in OS X

Create Your Own Text Shortcuts for Frequently Used Words or Phrases

OS X Text Substitution
OS X lets you create text substitutions that work system-wide. Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc

OS X has supported system-wide text substitution capabilities since OS X Snow Leopard. Text substitution lets you create text shortcuts for words and phrases you use frequently. Once you type a text shortcut, it will automatically expand to its associated phrase. This works in any application, hence the “system-wide” name; it's not limited to word processors. Text substitution will work in any app that uses OS X’s text manipulation APIs (Application Programing Interface).

Text substitution is also a handy tool for words you frequently mistype. For instance, I tend to type ‘teh’ when I mean to type ‘the.’ My word processor is smart enough to correct that typing error for me, but other applications are perfectly happy to let me look silly, with ‘teh’ written all over the place.

Setting Up Text Substitution

You control text substitution from your Mac’s system preferences. However, the actual preference pane you use has changed over time, so we'll provide multiple instructions for how to set up text substitution, depending on which version of OS X you're using. If you're not sure, select 'About This Mac' from the Apple menu.

Snow Leopard (10.6.x), Lion (10.7.x), and Mountain Lion (10.8.x) Text Substitution

  1. Launch System Preferences by clicking on its icon in the Dock, or by selecting ‘System Preferences’ from the Apple menu.
  2. Select the ‘Language & Text’ preference pane from the System Preferences window.
  1. Select the ‘Text’ tab from the Language & Text window.

Snow Leopard, Lion, and Mountain Lion come pre-configured with a variety of text substitutions, including my ‘teh/the’ example. In addition to substitutions for some frequently mistyped words, Snow Leopard also includes substitutions for copyright, trademark, and other common symbols, as well as fractions.

To add your own words and phrases to the list, skip ahead to “Adding Your Own Text Substitutions.”

Mavericks (10.9.x)Yosemite (10.10.x), and El Capitan (10.11) Text Substitution

  1. Launch System Preferences by clicking on its Dock icon, or by selecting the System Preferences item from the Apple menu.
  2. Select the Keyboard preference pane.
  3. Click on the Text tab in the Keyboard preference pane window.

OS X Mavericks and later come with a somewhat limited number of predefined text substitutions. You'll find substitutions for copyright, trademark, and a few other items.

Adding Your Own Text Substitutions

  1. Click the ‘+’ (plus) sign near the bottom left corner of the Text window.
  2. Enter the shortcut text in the ‘Replace’ column.
  3. Enter the expanded text in the ‘With’ column.
  4. Press return or enter to add your text substitution.

Removing Text Substitutions

  1. In the Text window, select the substitution you wish to remove.
  2. Click the ‘-’ (minus) sign near the bottom left corner of the window.
  3. The selected substitution will be removed.

Enabling or Disabling Individual Text Substitutions (Snow Leopard, Lion, and Mountain Lion Only)

You can enable or disable individual text substitutions, including those pre-populated by Apple.

This allows you to have a large collection of substitutions, without having to delete ones you don’t currently use.

  1. In the Language & Text window, place a check mark next to any substitution you wish to make active.
  2. In the Language & Text window, remove the check mark from any substitution you wish to make inactive.

Text substitution is a powerful capability, but the built-in system is at best basic. If you find it lacks a few features, such as the ability to assign substitutions on a per-application basis, then a third-party text expander, such as those listed below, may be more to your liking.

Originally published: 9/18/2009

Updated: 5/30/2016

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