Select Paragraphs & Large Text Block Easily in iOS with a Two-Finger Tap

Jun 21, 2014 - 17 Comments

Select a paragraph instantly in iOS with a two-finger tap trick

Most iPhone and iPad users know that you can tap and hold onto any text within iOS to select it, then by using the little draggable bars, you can adjust the size of the text selection rather easily too. While this is great for selecting a single word, a sentence, and even a small block of text, it’s not so great for choosing to highlight large groups of words like a lengthy paragraph, or just a generally large block of text. But not to worry, it turns out that iOS has a much better way of selecting large text blocks in one fell swoop, and it uses an easy to remember tap gesture that seems to be so little known that it’d almost qualify as a secret.


Note: This paragraph selection trick is limited to some apps, and not every iOS app supports the feature. Let us know in the comments which ones work for you, and which ones don’t!

To follow along and try this out yourself, start in any iOS app that has a fairly large block of text written or typed out. We’re going to use the Notes app in this example, with a document that has several paragraphs of varying lengths.

  1. Navigate on screen to the large continuous text block to highlight all together, typically a paragraph
  2. Use a two-finger tap directly onto the paragraph to instantly select the entire paragraph or group of contiguous words

Select a paragraph or large text block instantly in iOS with a two-finger tap trick

If you’re having difficulty with this initially, it’s likely just the result of needing some practice and learning how it works. For best results, you’ll generally want to keep the two fingers right next to each other when tapping on the text:

Instant paragraph selection on the iPhone with a two-finger tap trick, keep fingers close together

Now that the initial large word block or paragraph has been selected, you can then go a step further and use this as a quick way to select all text on the page with a simple two-finger tap then hitting the “Select All” option in the pop-up menus.

Select all text quickly in iOS

Or just quickly copy the text from that same hover menu, use the fantastic iOS Text-To-Speech feature, or whatever else you’re looking to do with the selected paragraph or word block.

I use this frequently when replying to emails with Smart Quotes in Mail app for iOS, since it’s much faster to select a paragraph and reply to it with a two-finger gesture than tapping and holding, then squirming around with the little draggable selector bars to try and get the block you’re replying to. If you do a lot of email on your iPhone or iPad, I’d highly recommend mastering this combination, it’s very effective for quick replies.

It’s worth pointing out that this great two-finger tap-to-select-a-block trick works best with iOS devices with larger screens, so while it’s incredibly effective on the iPad and bigger screen iPhone models, it can be a challenge on older devices with smaller screen space, where tap targets are less precise due to their smaller size, which can be even more true when text on the device is displayed in small sizes.

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in iPad, iPhone, Tips & Tricks

17 Comments

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  1. howdyhowdy says:

    Hey! Thank you very much.

    • Paul says:

      You’re welcome! This is one of those tricks that is so useful but few people know, master it and you’ll be more productive in iOS!

  2. Ian MacGregor says:

    I couldn’t get this method to yield the popup while viewing email messages. However, long-pressing any word will yield the popup in many apps.

  3. Tony McDowell says:

    can’t get this to work at all on iPhone 5, or on iPad 2

  4. katsat says:

    I can’t make it work on my iPad Air. I’m on the latest iOS. I can tap to highlight a word, but using 2 fingers does nothing. Any ideas what’s wrong?

  5. Burak Erdem says:

    Works only with Notes app which makes this tip useless.

  6. Amy Soldier says:

    Fun facts. Love ‘em. T’anks.

  7. Shan says:

    The two finger double tap doesn’t work for me using iOS 7 on iPhone 5.

    Here’s what does- just press and hold the paragraph with one finger and slide your finger off the paragraph that you would like to highlight. Doing this slowly seems to work best.

  8. Phillip Cowell (@Phillip_Cowell) says:

    This very useful feature was removed in iOS7 Can’t understand for the life of me why, because it was very handy.

  9. John says:

    I did a little testing on this page. Tap and hold on a word till it is highlighted. Quickly drag the lower blue handle off the bottom edge of the paragraph and release. Now the whole paragraph is selected. Alternatively, drag the upper blue handle off the top edge of the paragraph. Same effect.

  10. Marco Aurélio says:

    It works only in some apps. When editing a mail message it works.
    Using in a received mail does not work, although it works selecting with taping and holding with just one finger.
    When browsing with Safari it does not work too.
    A single double finger tap selects paragraph. A taping and holding with too fingers selects text between the fingers.

  11. Jon says:

    First of all, I very much dislike the new layout of your website (where I have to click “more” to get the info I need) only for the info to be wrong and misleading.

    This does not work on “any iOS app”

    You CAN have your fingers separated.

    • Paul says:

      Correct in that the trick is not always consistent, for example the Pages app uses the two-finger tap as a zoom method instead. It would be preferable to have this be universally the same throughout iOS, but alas that’s up to Apple to implement.

      Using two fingers directly next to one another makes it much easier to use in my experience, thus the recommendation.

      Oh and regarding the “More” click, it helps speed up the home page load time considerably. Plus it makes for easier scanning of articles for user interest, so it’s win / win. Basically, a faster site that’s easier to read – that’s a good thing! We always appreciate the feedback though!

  12. Joe says:

    What I usually do when I need to select all of the text on a note in iOS is tap the share sheet icon and tap copy, which automatically copies all of the text for that particular note. I think it only works in Notes though, hope it helps someone out!

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