That Damn Delete Key in Excel for Mac

by Gregory on June 27, 2011

Techno manI have no earthy idea why it took me so long to figure out how to delete the contents of a cell or range in Excel for Mac. Ever since I bought my MacBook Pro I’ve known the Delete key on a Mac isn’t really a Delete key.

I mean, since my background is with Windows, I have ingrained knowledge on how the Delete Key works on a computer. Ingrained, I tell you.

But all of that knowledge was shattered upon getting a Mac.

After some consternation, I learned that you have to hold down the fn key and the Delete key at the same time when you want to delete something on a Mac. (Skip to video)

After a while, you get used to the idea that the Delete key on a Mac is really a backspace key and using fn+Delete gives you the real Delete key action. 🙂

Of course if you’re a long time Mac user you probably think I’m cuckoo. But hey, this is my blog, think what you like. I’m not the only one who’s decided to start using a Mac after a lifetime of Windows abuse use.

Excel for Mac

Anyway, when using Excel on a Mac — I’ve got versions 2008 and 2011 — you run into a learning curve with all the unusual shortcut keys, function keys (1, 2), and menu and ribbon things that are different from the Windows version of Excel. So there’s a tendency to forget about how the Delete key works on a Mac.

I mean, this is Excel we’re talking about here. Hitting the Delete key is supposed to delete the contents of the active cell, for cryin’ out loud.

In Excel for Mac it does that, but the cursor also gets stuck inside the cell in edit mode. You have to hit the enter key to finish deleting the contents, but this act also moves the active cell to the next cell down.

And if you’ve selected a range and hit the Delete key, the active cell contents are deleted and the cursor is stuck inside the cell in edit mode. You have to hit the Enter key, which does nothing but take you to the next cell. The range contents are still there, with the exception of the active cell.

Not the kind of behavior that occurs in Excel for Windows.

How to Delete Cell and Range Contents in Excel for Mac

The trick is to remember that fn+Delete is really a keyboard shortcut to the Delete key on a Mac. Then the world rights itself and the planets align. Frustration abates. You’ve finally found the magic. Your mojo is back!

Watch this 54 second video to see what I’ve been babbling about for the past 454 words.


YouTube link

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irene April 8, 2013 at 7:10 am

Thank you! Veeeery useful information! 🙂

Dave Bruns April 17, 2013 at 9:21 pm

I know this is an old thread, but I just spent the last few weeks assembling a list of Windows and Mac Excel shortcuts. Right now, the list is just over 200* shortcuts: http://exceljet.net/keyboard-shortcuts

Seems like every time I look at the list, I find a problem to fix, but it’s a start. Hope it’s useful for those who need to use both platforms.

* I took a pretty granular approach, so some shortcuts are near duplicates (e.g. selecting columns in a table and selecting columns in the worksheet are listed separately, but the behavior is a little different)

Gregory April 17, 2013 at 9:38 pm

Fantastic! Thanks for the link. It’s now one of my favorites.

Jen April 27, 2013 at 12:44 pm

THANKS! This drove me crazy all morning and no one would believe me this was happening!

Michelle April 27, 2013 at 2:48 pm

You’re my hero!! Thanks for the tips. Have been using a Mac for a year now after years and years of Windows which I was quite proficient in and these little differences drive me crazy!! You have a new fan. 🙂

Brett April 29, 2013 at 8:49 am

Finally! Thank you. This has been bothering me for like 4 years. I don’t know why I waited so long to try to figure out how to delete multiple selected cells. Again, thank you!

Mike May 17, 2013 at 10:36 pm

The Hallelujah chorus is playing and my world feels so much better! New to MacBook Pro

Phil Paradis May 30, 2013 at 6:04 pm

Note that there is a Windows-style “Delete” key on the full-size Mac keyboards, in it’s usual place to the left of the End key. (It’s labeled with a funny-looking symbol instead of “Delete”, and is referred to in most documentation as “Forward Delete”.) This key functions exactly as Delete on a Windows keyboard and Fn-Delete on the laptop/wireless Mac keyboards. The full-size model also has a 10-key number pad for those who prefer them, though some of the operator keys are misplaced relative to the PC layout which can take some getting used to.

Gregory May 30, 2013 at 6:30 pm

Good to know, thanks.

Behrooz June 4, 2013 at 4:07 pm

Thanks a lot. It is somehow intuitive but it is not in some way! That is why I searched for it and found your very useful post.

Thanks.

John June 8, 2013 at 11:31 pm

Great stuff well explained. Merci!

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