Assign Keyboard Shortcuts

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How to assign a keyboard shortcut


Word comes with a long list of built-in keyboard shortcuts. In most versions of Word, you can find a list by searching Word’s Help for “keyboard shortcuts.” An online list for Word 2010 and above (but mostly applicable to older versions) can be found here.

There are, however, many commands in Word to which keyboard shortcuts have not been assigned. If you use these commands frequently, you may want to assign a shortcut key. You can also assign keyboard shortcuts to styles, font characters, and macros.

When you create a style or macro, you are given the option of assigning a shortcut key. If you don’t do this at the outset, you still have a chance with styles in the Modify Style dialog.

Modify Style dialog in Word 2003

For other applications, you need to use the Customize Keyboard dialog.

The Customize Keyboard dialog

Access the dialog as follows:

  • Word 2003 and earlier: On the Tools menu, choose Customize… At the bottom of the dialog, click Keyboard…

Customize Keyboard dialog in Word 2003

  • Word 2007: Click the Office Button, then Word Options. In the left panel, choose Customize. In the Customize the Quick Access Toolbar and keyboard shortcuts dialog, beside Keyboard shortcuts at the bottom, click Customize…

Customize Keyboard dialog in Word 2007

  • Word 2010 and above: Click the File menu and choose Options. In the left panel, choose Customize Ribbon. In the Customize the Ribbon and keyboard shortcuts dialog, beside Keyboard shortcuts at the bottom, click Customize…

Customize Keyboard dialog in Word 2010

You will see that the Categories list in each version mirrors the main menus in toolbar versions and the Ribbon tabs (including contextual ones) in Ribbon versions (in Word 2013, the Design tab is added to the list). This list ends with All Commands. Below the divider are entries for Macros, Fonts, AutoText, Styles, and Common Symbols. In Word 2010 and above, AutoText is replaced with Building Blocks.

Bottom of Categories list in Word 2003

If you know the location of the command to which you want to assign a shortcut, you can select the appropriate menu or Ribbon tab in the Categories list. Ribbon versions also include a Commands Not in the Ribbon category. The most exhaustive category, however, is of course the All Commands list, which lists all the available commands (note that some commands that are available for menus or toolbars are not available for keyboard shortcuts) Although they are listed alphabetically, you may have to use some ingenuity to find them because some, such as EditFind and DrawCallout, are listed by the menu or toolbar on which they originally appeared.

Customization context

By default, shortcut key assignments are saved in the global template, Because this template is available to all documents (even if a specific document template is attached to the document), your keyboard shortcuts will be available in all documents.

But you may want to add shortcuts to just a specific document template or even a specific document or to a different global template. If you are working in a blank document based on the Normal template, the options available in the Save in dropdown will be limited to and the current document. If you are working in a document based on a different template, that template will also be one of the choices. If you are working in a template, that template will be available.

Because the recommended solution to many problems in Word is to rename the Normal template (thus potentially losing customizations such as keyboard shortcuts), it is often recommended that these customizations be made in another template. If you save that template in Word’s Startup folder, it will be loaded at startup and will be “global” as well, meaning that your customizations will be available to all documents. To save customizations in this global “add-in” template, you must first create and save the template, then open the Customize dialog, select the template in the Save in dropdown, and then make your customizations. Whenever you need to make more customizations to this global template, you must open it for editing.

Assigning the shortcut

Once you have located the command to which you wish to assign a keyboard shortcut, look at the Current Keys box to make sure there is not already a shortcut assigned. If there is, your work is done!

Customize Keyboard dialog in Word 2003 showing current shortcut key

If not, then place the insertion point in the Press new shortcut key box and do exactly that: press the keys you want to use for a shortcut. They will appear in the box. Sometimes users try to type out what they see in a screen shot such as the one below; that doesn’t work: you have to just press the actual keys.

Entering a shortcut key and checking for current assignment

Important Note: Keyboard shortcuts will always display letter keys as capitals. For example, the shortcut shown in the screen shot, Ctrl+A, actually represents Ctrl+a; if a capital letter were required, you would see Ctrl+Shift+A.

There are some limitations to what key combinations can be used as shortcuts.

  • A keyboard shortcut can’t be a single letter or combination of letters or punctuation, with or without Shift. That is, keys that are used to actually enter text cannot do double duty as keyboard shortcuts.

  • A keyboard shortcut must include either Alt or Ctrl or both, with or without Shift.

  • Because Word uses Alt with many letters as “accelerator keys” to access menus and menu items, Ribbon tabs and buttons, and dialog options, these combinations should not be used as keyboard shortcuts. It is better to include Ctrl or Shift or both. That is, not Alt+A but Alt+Ctrl+A or Alt+Shift+A, or Alt+Ctrl+Shift+A. Word itself violates this principle with the shortcut Alt+X, the sequence used to toggle between Unicode characters and their codes.

  • Some keyboard shortcuts use what is called a “setup key.” If you see a command that includes a comma, such as Ctrl+’, E, which is the shortcut for é, then the part before the comma is the setup key. You press Ctrl and the apostrophe key together, release them, then press e. You can see more examples of this in my article on inserting special characters. You can create such a shortcut the same way: press two or more keys in combination, release them, then press more keys. Your keyboard shortcut will be displayed with a comma. As noted above, the shortcut for é is represented as Ctrl+’, E; to type É, you have to press Ctrl+’, Shift+E.

When you have entered the desired key sequence, look to see whether Currently assigned to: shows [unassigned] or displays a command (as in the screen shot above). If it is the latter, the shortcut you have selected already has an assignment. If you assign a shortcut that is already assigned to another command, that shortcut is removed from the existing assignment. If the existing assignment was a built-in one, it will be restored if you remove your new assignment. For example, if you assign Ctrl+Shift+F to the DeleteAllCommentsInDoc command, it will be removed from the Font command. If you then remove it from the DeleteAllCommentsInDoc command, that will return the assignment to the Font command.) So, if you persevere with your selection, your choice will override the built-in shortcut. Alternatively, you can choose a different shortcut.

Important Note: Even though, as noted above, Word uses Alt with many letters as “accelerator keys,” these combinations will never be reported under “Currently assigned to.” If you create a command using only Alt (as opposed to Alt in combination with Ctrl or Shift or both), you may find you have created a conflict.

When you have settled on a shortcut that works for you and is not assigned to any other command, click Assign.

Removing shortcuts

Sometimes you may wish to unassign a keyboard shortcut because it is causing a problem, perhaps because it is executing an unknown command. There are two ways to find out what key a command is assigned to:

  • You can press Ctrl+Alt+NumPadPlus (which changes the cursor to a cloverleaf shape) and then press the shortcut. The Customize Keyboard dialog opens with the current assignment shown in the Commands list.

  • If the Customize Keyboard dialog is already open, you can press the shortcut key for any random command in the Customize Keyboard dialog and look at “Currently assigned to” to see what command it executes.

Once you have found the problem command, navigate to that command, select the shortcut key under Current keys, and click Remove.

Customize Keyboard dialog used to remove a shortcut key

Sometimes commands have more than one shortcut. If there is one you never use (such as Ctrl+Shift+B for Bold), you could remove it and reassign it to a different command.

Related articles

How to add a command or macro to a toolbar (Word 2003 and earlier)

How to add a command or macro to a menu (Word 2003 and earlier)

How to add a command or macro to the Quick Access Toolbar (Word 2007 and above)


This article copyright © 2016, 2023 by Suzanne S. Barnhill. I am indebted to fellow MVP Jay Freedman for several helpful suggestions that greatly improved this article.