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Windows Underlined Letters for Keyboard Accelerators – Peculiarities

Ever since Windows 2000, menu keyboard shortcut characters are not underlined by default. According to Microsoft, the underlined letters are hidden until you press the Alt key. Let’s try that… First, use the mouse to click on the Help menu in Visual Studio:

Visual Studio About

Now, press Alt to show the underlined letters right? Poof, the menu is gone. Ok, that’s an easy one. I’m sure everyone have figured out that Alt key must be pressed before you access the menu. But can anyone tell me this? How do I show underlined letters for right-click/context menus with the Alt key? Well, the short answer is you can’t! If you don’t believe me, try it yourself. I’ve tried Alt+right-click, Alt then right click, right click then Alt, etc. Nothing works.

The only thing I’ve found to work is the Application key (this is the key with the image of a mouse pointer on a menu, between Alt and Ctrl). Interestingly, the Application key will always show underlined letters regardless of the “hide underlined letters” settings. The keyboard combination Shift-F10 also brings up the context menu, however that keyboard shortcut does not show underlined letters.

You can forget about all of this nonsense and have Windows always show the underlined letters by changing a setting (instructions below are for Windows XP):

  • Open the Display Control Panel.
  • Display Properties Control Panel Applet

  • Click on the Appearance tab, then Effects…
  • Uncheck “Hide underlined letters for keyboard navigation until I press the Alt key”.
  • Hide underlined letters for keyboard navigation until I pres the Alt key

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This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. I stumbled across this page, maybe you can help me. I work as a medical transcriptionist, need to keep my hands on keyboard and use mouse as little as possible to maintain high levels of production. In a particular application I use on my job, there is a box checked that needs to be unchecked to continue typing the report. Is there a way to get the cursor to this box and uncheck it, WITHOUT USING THE MOUSE…that is only using the keyboard?

    I would appreciate any help you can offer, and there will be a roomful of women grateful to you if you can solve this problem for us.

  2. Debra:

    Assuming that your app is a Windows app, you should be able to hit the Tab key and move focus from one control to the next. When focus is on the checkbox, you can then hit space to check/uncheck it.

    You may have to press Tab a lot of times to get to the checkbox in question… it may end up faster to use the mouse if there are lots of key presses involved.

    Another thing to try is to contact the software maker and ask to them put in a keyboard accelerator for the checkbox.


  3. See if the text next to the checkbox has a letter underlined. Hold down the ALT key if no letters are underlined, see if that makes the underlines show. then ALT- should take you to the checkbox. SPACE BAR should toggle the checkbox.

  4. Eric, I found this answer through Windows Server 2008 R2 help.
    Control Panel > Ease of Access Center > Make the keyboard easier to use > Underline keyboard shortcuts and access keys.

    I know how old the OP was, I see the follow up questions are old, but it was the 1st hit in a google search for Windows 2008 underline keys so I think the answer should exist here.

  5. for windows 8.1 …

    Control panel
    > Ease of access
    > Make the keyboard easier to use
    > Underline keyboard shortcuts and access keys.

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