When indicating valid key modifier combinations to users, is there a "correct" or normative order in which to describe them? For instance, if you wanted the user to press shift and control and alt and then press the F3 key, how would you write that:




Looking at the examples in Microsoft's guidelines for keyboard user interface design the order is:

CTRL - ALT - SHIFT - [key]

This is consistent with the OS X Human Interface Guidelines, which explicitly state that the correct order is

Control, Option, Shift, Command.
  • Note this order is different from the numeric ordering of the VK_ Key constants where VK_SHIFT is 0x10, VK_CONTROL is 0x11, and VK_MENU is 0x12 – Mishax Jul 24 '14 at 3:39
  • It should be said that Microsoft is a corporation of Chaos and never follow any guidelines. For example, if you open the official page with the list of Word shortcuts, the order is (1) sometimes Alt-Ctrl-Shift and (2) sometimes Ctrl-Alt (with unknown position of Shift) and (3) sometimes Shift-Alt (with unknown position of Ctrl). – john c. j. Oct 20 '19 at 15:43
  • And as Gandalf Saxe correctly said, VS Code use Ctrl-Shift-Alt. Therefore, I think that the best possible option, when we write Windows shortcuts, is to kick out this trash out of the head, and use simple and intuitive alphabetical order. – john c. j. Oct 20 '19 at 16:34

I'm not sure there is a "Correct" way of writing this (though as Marielle's answer points out there is a conventional way), but to me there certainly seems to be intuitive ways. One possibility is to write the modifier keys in the order of the finger generally used to press that key (left to right). Control is generally pressed by the pinky (little) finger, so it would appear first, pinky being the leftmost finger on the left hand. Shift is the ring finger if Control is already pressed, so it would come second. Should both Control and shift be pressed, then Alt may likely be pressed by the thumb. So we get:

Control (pinky) + Shift (ring finger) + Alt (thumb) + key (last by default)

Regardless of what order you decide to place the modifier keys in, the key being modified should always appear last. Think of it as a noun, and the modifiers as adjectives.

Of course, if you've got a shortcut that requires 3 modifiers at once, I feel you may need to do some reworking. It's awkward to perform, and there are surely more than enough 2 modifier combinations available should you run out of single modifier shortcuts that make sense.


I'd say it's CTRL, SHIFT, ALT.

Looking at the link @Marielle posted, I see no evidence for CTRL, ALT, SHIFT. Did I overlook something or did the docs change since the answer was posted in 2014?

Anyway, when making keyboard shortcuts in Visual Studio Code using all modifiers, it comes out as Ctrl+Shift+Alt+... Since this is a Microsoft product, it's an indication of their recommended order.

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If anyone has any more tangible documentation on this, I'd also like to know.

  • The document moved, I believe I can edit the post. The advice is stil consistent "List modifier keys in the correct order. If you use more than one modifier key in a shortcut, always list them in this order: Control, Option, Shift, Command." – Mishax Aug 16 '18 at 9:18

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