Gmail Delete Key Shortcut for UK Apple Users

MacBook keyboard

Having taken the plunge in January and moving wholesale from Outlook to Gmail, I’ve become hooked. Once or twice, I’ve even got close to reaching Inbox Zero. Close, but no cigar, at least not for long. Still, it’s an improvement.

Now Gmail is pretty quick, but turning on Gmail’s keyboard shortcuts (and remembering at least some of them) makes handling email even quicker. 

There’s one niggle though and it was driving me particularly bonkers. The keyboard shortcut for deleting a message is #. Fine, you’d think. Unless you have an Apple MacBook with a UK keyboard layout. In this case, to generate a # key, you press Alt + 3. Which doesn’t work. Apparently the problem also affects other European keyboard layouts.

Now, I can imagine you’re thinking that this is pedantry in the extreme. Surely, it’s not a big deal. Perhaps, but for me, a typical day will see 2-400 emails pour into my inbox. Thankfully, after lots of hunting round, I found a solution, which I’ve written up below in case anyone else is being driven nuts (yes, I know, I need to get out more).

Workaround: Gmail Delete Key (#) Shortcut for Apple’s UK, French, German Keyboards

Firstly, turn on the Keyboard Shortcuts. Seriously, it’s worth doing this step without anything else. Mastering these shortcuts will save you heaps of time and make the Gmail experience even better.

Go to your Gmail settings (top-left hand corner, once you’ve logged in). Click on the link labelled Settings. Make sure Keyboard shortcuts on (see pic below) is selected and click Save Changes at the bottom of the page.

Gmail Settings Screenshot

You might need to log out, then login in again for the shortcuts to kick in. Test them out to make sure they’re working, here’s a few I found particularly useful:

  • o – open a message (Shift + o will open the message in a new window)
  • r – reply to a message
  • g + i – go to the inbox
  • / – go to the search box

Check out the full list in the Gmail help section and there’s a handy printable version put together by Evan Williams of Twitter fame.

So, the annoying UK keyboard layout problem? How to get round it? Luckily there’s a feature in Gmail Labs – a collection of handy tweaks for Gmail – called Custom keyboard shortcuts written by the enigmatic sounding Alan S.

Click on the Labs link in your Gmail Settings (see pic below), find the Custom keyboard shortcuts feature and select Enable, then click Save Changes at the bottom of the page.

Gmail Settings: 'Labs'

Once the page re-loads, you’ll see a new tab at the top of Settings page, labelled Keyboard Shortcuts, click on the link to tailor the keyboard shortcuts, including that annoying delete key.

Gmail Settings: Keyboard Shortcuts

I’ve left the other settings as their defaults and changed the delete key to 3 (instead of Alt + 3), not particularly imaginative.

I figured that the usability people at Gmail have probably given some thought to the layout of the shortcuts and this is almost the same as the default layout.

And there you have it, hope that’s useful.

Also published on Medium.


Inquisitive. Hopeful. Jovial. Cantankerous. Digital marketer. Event organiser. Long-time fan of tech, collaboration and innovation. Exploring digital, social, business, technology, society, psychology & startups. Founder Chinwag, Digital Mission, Pitch NYC, ChinwagPsych. Former Exec Dir, Social Media Week London. More short stuff @toodlepip on Twitter.

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