Tip: Auto-complete words in OS X

RTFIconXAuto-complete options when using your Mac can often be exceptionally useful. For example, if you are a Terminal user, then when you enter a command you can type the first few letters of a command and then press Tab to have the Terminal show you the available commands based on those initial letters. You can do the same when typing file and folder paths in various parts of OS X.

While convenient for commands and details in the Terminal, auto-complete also exists when typing in text fields in Web browsers and other programs on your system. To do this, simply start typing a word, and then press the Escape key. This will trigger a small menu that uses the characters from the beginning of the current word to the position of the cursor, and give you an alphabetized list of available words that can be completed from the information given.

Text auto-complete in OS X

Pressing the Escape key brings up the text auto-complete menu (click image for larger view).

One program this can be seen in is TextEdit, so open the program and perform the following steps:

  1. Type a few characters, such as “abs”
  2. Press the Escape key

The menu will pop up, showing you “absence,” “absolute,” “absolutely,” etc., which you can select with the mouse cursor, or with your arrow keys followed by pressing Enter, Space, Tab, or the right or left arrows to complete the word and continue with your document.

Note that the word completion will happen at the point of the cursor, so if you place your cursor within a word, then the characters of any suggested completion will be placed within that word. Therefore, this feature might be most useful when typing. If you would like to look up alternative words, then you can do so by right-clicking the word and choosing the option to look it up in Apple’s Dictionary service.

4 thoughts on “Tip: Auto-complete words in OS X

  1. B. Jefferson Le Blanc

    Thanks again, Topher, for a useful tip. I thought you were going to recommend OS X’s built-in spell check auto-replace, which is generally a big pain in the the rear. This, however, is a more obscure, unobtrusive option that could actually be helpful. Now if I can just remember it! 😉

  2. mpemburn

    Thus far, I’ve only found this to work in TextEdit (who in the world uses TextEdit?) and the HipChat app. Doesn’t work in Chrome, Safari, Eclipse, PHPStorm, or skEdit. Would be very useful if they could come up with a way to use this any place that you can type text.

    1. Topher Kessler Post author

      It should work in Safari, but the others might have their own text handling routines and not rely on the libraries in OS X that implement this feature as a default. For instance, Jetbrains’ software runs on Java, so it going to use Java’s text handling and not those in the Cocoa frameworks which this feature is a part of). Others may override this feature and cancel it out for their own custom behaviors. However, unless these are the cases then the feature should work.

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