It is suggested that one should use only four fingers (index finger to little finger) to type letters and numbers, while the thumbs are only used for spaces and other keys in the bottom row. Also, it is thought that one would type better if they always use the same finger for the same key.

However, with the Shift being located where it is, one could only press it with their little finger, which means that e.g. to write Z? on QWERTY keyboard one should either do an extra inconvenient keypress (right-shift plus z, then left-shift plus /) or to use their little finger to hold some of Shifts for the whole time, and then use the corresponding ring-finger to press a key that is normally typed by little finger.

It seems to me much more natural when both Shift keys are located on the bottom row (e.g. in place of the Alt keys), so that they could be pressed by thumbs. Since Alt keys are used in shortcuts mostly, switching Shifts and Alts seemed to improve typing speed and accuracy for me (once I got used to it).

The question is: why on the IBM PC Keyboard (which has the bottom row), Shift key is located where it is, just below the home row? Is there any rationale for it besides the fact it was located there on the typewriters?

  • 1
    Why is 'besides the fact it was located there on typewriters' not an acceptable answer for you? It's very likely that is the reason for its placement.
    – JonW
    Feb 21, 2014 at 9:21
  • @JonW A lot of things has changed since typewriters (e.g. punctuation marks, "1" etc). Why wasn't shift key moved?
    – penartur
    Feb 21, 2014 at 9:30
  • Well the whole concept of QWERTY layout was to prevent keys jamming into each-other on a physical typewriter. That's not an issue anymore so why hasn't the whole keyboard been changed? Why should just the Shift key be the one you're concerned with?
    – JonW
    Feb 21, 2014 at 9:34
  • @JonW Slight changes in a Shift keys location are much easier to get accustomed to compared to a complete overhaul of the alphanumeric part of keyboard, which would require retraining all the experienced typewriter users. Dvorak keyboard has Shifts in the same location though.
    – penartur
    Feb 21, 2014 at 9:41
  • do you have a picture of the keyboard you are asking for?
    – PatomaS
    Feb 21, 2014 at 9:56

2 Answers 2


The shift key comes from the era of mechanical typewriters. The first typewriter to come with a key that allowed to switch between upper and lower case was the Remington Standard No. 2. enter image description here

After that the shift keys made their introduction. Here's a picture of the serial nr 88.474, manufactured circa 1891.

enter image description here

As far as I see this is the first typewriter that positioned the shift key next to the Z. I guess the right shift moved to the same line as the left one later on.

You may want to have a look here.

We are still holding on to our shift key's positions for the same reason that we are still using a QWERTY or AZERTY keyboard and not a DVORAK keyboard.

  • Well, I'm using Dvorak, actually :) A lot of things has changed since typewriters (e.g. punctuation marks). Moving Shifts lower is not as significant as reworking the entire layout (in Dvorak), and would not require much time to re-learn.
    – penartur
    Feb 21, 2014 at 9:26
  • 2
    Good for you, but I still have not seen such a keyboard in real life. Feb 21, 2014 at 9:28

The shift key is used to activate temporarily the capitalization of the letters and the upper or secondary option on some keys. As is common knowledge. It is a secondary key.

Your main fingers are the index, the middle and the thumb.

Your less used finger is the ring one.

Keyboards, from typewriters time to PC, are designed for optimal use of the movements of the fingers. Without entering on the discussion if qwerty, azerty or any other is the best.

So. the shift key, has just limited use. and never by itself, always in combination with other keys, therefore, the right position to use something that requires a dominant key is to be in a position where it can be accessed easily enough, without much thinking and without making more difficult the main action, on reach for the baby finger is a perfect position. Is easily reached and combined with the dominant fingers from the same hand or any finger from the other hand.

The bottom row is usually reached by the thumb, and it is pointing to the middle of that row, keys to the sides of the spacer bar, are out of reach, therefore, require special action/movement to be reached. The keys at the bottom, non central positions, are keys with very limited use, so, they are not required to be accessible all the time, but the shift should be handy many more times than ctrl, alt or windows key.

  • Thumb being my main finger is the exact reason for moving Shifts to the bottom. As it is now, I'm only using one of my thumbs to enter Space, and do not use another thumb at all while typing. Alt keys are perfectly reachable by thumbs while typing. Sure it requires moving your thumbs to the certain extent, but then all the typing does require you to move some fingers (unless ASDFJKL; are enough for you). So your answer seems to contradict the reality.
    – penartur
    Feb 21, 2014 at 12:13
  • while I type, I don't move my wrist from the bottom of the pad on the keyboard, unless I have to reach for the mouse or the arrows. I use both thumbs for the space, depending on what I type, and I can reach the right alt key, but not the left one without moving the hand. If you move shift to the bottom, you either replace the alt key or is going to be out of reach any way. Good practice for typing is not to move your hands around, or move them the less possible.
    – PatomaS
    Feb 21, 2014 at 13:04
  • It is strange, as I can easily reach both Alt keys moving my thumbs only. What is the problem with replacing the Alt key then? I mean, IBM could move Shifts instead of Alts to the free space gained by shrinking the Space button on Enhanced keyboard. They messed with the control keys layout anyway: PC/AT -> Enhanced
    – penartur
    Feb 21, 2014 at 14:14

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