Shift

Shift key1. A keyboard key that allows a user to type a single capital letter. For example, pressing and holding the Shift key while pressing the letter a key would generate a capital A. On US keyboards the Shift key is the second largest key located on both the left and right-hand of the keyboard, below the Caps lock key, and Enter or Return key. The picture is a close up view and example of the Shift key.

Tip: Unlike the other modifier keys the Shift key is also found on Apple computer keyboards and performs the same function as the PC. With Apple keyboard shortcuts, the Shift is represented as an up arrow, similar to that shown in our example picture.

Note: With some TeleType machines the Shift key was used to get the characters on the top row of a key, there was no upper case and lower case characters.

Shift keys locations

Below is an overview of a computer keyboard with the Shift keys highlighted in blue.

Shift keys

How to use the Shift key

To use the Shift key to capitalize letters press and hold down the Shift key and while continuing to hold down the key push the letter you want to capitalize. On U.S. keyboard and other similar keyboards you can also hold down the Shift key and press the number across the top of the keyboard to get the symbols (e.g. !, @, #, and $) on those keys.

Tip: On most computers (except those running OS X) if the Caps Lock key is enabled and you press the Shift key and a letter the letter will be lowercase.

The Shift key is also used with shortcut keys. For example, holding down the Shift key and pressing your arrow keys will highlight text in the direction of the arrow key you press. Below are other examples of shortcuts that use the Shift key.

Shift key shortcuts

Also, the Shift key can is be used with shortcuts in the Microsoft Windows operating system.

Ctrl + Shift + Esc Open the Task Manager.
Shift + Arrow Key Holding down the Shift key while pressing an arrow key highlights text one character at a time in the direction of pressing the arrow key. If you also hold down Ctrl, it will highlight one word at a time.
Hold down Shift

For versions of Windows that automatically run a disc when it is inserted into the computer pressing and holding the Shift key as the disc is inserted will prevent the disc from automatically running.

Pressing and holding down the Shift key while pressing the Delete key or deleting a file will delete the file without sending it to the Recycling Bin.

Shift + Tab Moves back to the previous object. For example, pressing a tab while in a browser moves between each of the links on the web page. Pressing Shift + Tab moves between each of the links in the opposite direction.
Press Shift five times Open Sticky Keys. Once activated you can press both Shift keys at the same time to deactivate Sticky Keys.
Hold down the Left Shift key for 8 seconds. Open Filter Keys.
Left Alt + Shift + Num Lock Open Mouse Keys.
Left Alt + Shift + Print Screen Open High Contrast.

Why are there two Shift keys?

There are two Shift keys on a computer keyboard to help with capitalizing letters on both sides of the keyboard. For example, if you wanted a capital "z" you use your pinky on your right-hand to press and hold down Shift and then press the "z" key with your left-hand to make a capital "Z". Trying to make a capital "z" with only the left-hand would require you to move your hand since the pinky cannot press both keys at the same time.

Shift key history

The first keyboard to have a Shift key was found on the Remington No. 2 typewriter introduced in 1878 that had one Shift key on the left side of the keyboard.

Related pages

2. Shift is a Microsoft command line command that changes the position of replaceable parameters in a batch program. Additional information about this command found on our shift command page.

3. In some programming languages shift is a function that removes the first element of an array. For example, in the Perl code below shift removes "one" from the beginning of the array to make it "two three".

my @example = ('one', 'two', 'three');
shift @example;

print "@example"; #Prints: two three

Tip: If you want to add to the end of an array use the push function. If you want to remove the first element of the array use the shift function.

Also see: Keyboard, Keyboard terms, Modifier key, Uppercase