Set Up Text Substitution in Mac OS X
Using Text Substitution, you can easily write any special character or symbol like ™ or ® just by typing something like TM or (r). It can also be used to expand long phrases or particular words by typing shorter abbreviations, for example you could type “myeml” to instantly type out an email address, and it can also be used to quickly type out emoji rather than digging around in Character menus. Everything is automated and the options are unlimited in that you can have as many text replacement substitutes as you want. Getting this working is quite simple, but you’ll find that some apps in past versions of Mac OS also need the ability to use the substitutions enabled individually, we’ll cover that as well.
Configuring Text Substitution on a Mac
First, let’s create a substitution or two:
- Go to the Apple menu and down to “System Preferences”
- Click the “Language & Text” preference pane
- Click on the “Text” tab
- Adjust text to replace with a symbol or other text, add more text to replace by hitting the + button
The column on the left represents the shortcut, the column on the right represents the expansion that becomes substituted.
For an example shown in the screenshot below, “OXD” is set to be replaced with “OS X Daily”, so anytime the characters OXD are typed together and then followed by a spacebar or return key, the text will be replaced instantaneously. Generally, the substitutions are best used for phrases that are commonly used, sequences that are difficult to type, or for things like certain characters or alternate spelling thats are commonly flagged as typos. Usability wise, setting up a replacement for typing out email addresses is a great trick and goes for both Mac OS X and iOS on the mobile side of things too.
Note that in some apps prior to OS X 10.8 you will also need to enable Text Replacement individually. This is not always the case going forward, but if you are having trouble getting text replacement to work in some apps this is the first place you should look.
Enabling Text Replacements in Mac Applications
Now here comes the interesting part, the Text Substitution feature is not enabled by default in many Mac OS X applications and it has to be manually enabled on a per application basis. This is easy enough, but oddly Apple has named it something different once inside the application, it’s called “Text Replacement”, and here’s how to enable it:
- In most applications, open the “Edit” menu and scroll down to “Substitutions”
- Select “Text Replacement” and a check will appear next to it in the submenu, signifying text replacement is enabled for that application
- Now just type a shortcut that you had set earlier and your text will be replaced with the substitution set within the System Preferences
Text substitution (or replacement, whatever you want to call it) is an incredibly helpful feature, and I hope Apple allows you to enable it across all applications in future versions of Mac OS X with a simple ‘Enable for all applications’ switch within the Language & Text system prefs.
Note: New to OS X 10.8 and beyond is an ability to see Substitutions and to edit them directly, this can be found in the “Edit” menu of compatible apps, then pull down to Substutions and choose “Show Substitutions” to enable the pop-up hovering window. Checking the box within this window for “Text Replacement” toggles the feature on and off directly, and also lets you use a nice Replace All feature to go through documents where substitution did not take place and them implement those changes.
iOS also has this feature, though it’s called “Shortcuts” there, and we highly recommend using it there since it can make typing on the touchscreen keyboards easier and significantly faster, not to mention more accurate with some otherwise difficult words and phrases.