By John Gruber
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A New York Times mini crossword clue over the weekend was based on the notion that “Enter” is just a synonym for the Return key. It’s not. They’re two different keys that usually perform the same action, but not always.
All keyboards have a dedicated Return key — it’s the big key you’re thinking of above the right Shift key. On a Mac, the key code when you press Return is 36, and the glyph for the key is ↵.
A dedicated Enter key is generally only present on extended keyboards with a numeric keypad — it’s the key in the lower-right corner and is generally the only oversized key on the keyboard that is larger vertically, not horizontally. Its Mac key code is 76 and its glyph is ⌅. Just look at such a keyboard: the Return key says “Return”, and the Enter key says “Enter”.
If your keyboard doesn’t have a dedicated Enter key, you can type the Enter key by pressing Fn-Return. That’s why some Return keys have “Enter” printed in small type above the word “Return”. If your keyboard has neither a dedicated Enter key nor an Fn modifier key, I don’t think you can type Enter, without resorting to sorcery.1
Return and Enter do usually perform the same action, but not always:
As a general rule, when they differ, Return is simply the key for typing a newline character (which, on classic Mac OS, was literally a return character, but let’s not get into that here), whereas Enter enters what you’ve already typed without adding a new line.2
Keyboard Maestro is the easiest-to-use and most powerful way to attain such sorcery. You can use Keyboard Maestro to create a macro to simulate typing the Enter key and then assign the macro to whatever keyboard shortcut you want. ↩︎︎
In contexts where even the Return key means “send this”, common in chat-type apps such as Messages and Slack, you can use Option-Return to insert a newline character. ↩︎