Seven Tips and Shortcuts for the Mac Calculator app

Updated October 5th, 2020.

The Mac’s had a calculator from the very first day, but a lot of people have never used it at all. The ones who have used it probably don’t know everything it can do so they probably aren’t so impressed with it. Turns out the Calculator is way slicker than initially meets the eye, and I think you’ll use it a lot once you’ve learned about its powers. So here we go with Seven Tips and Shortcuts for the Mac Calculator app.

Table of Contents

  1. Put the Calculator into the Dock
  2. The Calculator has three modes: Basic, Scientific, and Programmer
  3. Use the keyboard for data entry
  4. The Calculator has a “paper tape”
  5. The Calculator can do conversions
  6. Show commas to separate the thousands, millions, and so on
  7. The Calculator can speak the buttons you’ve pressed
The Mac Calculator app's icon
The Mac Calculator app’s icon

1. Put the Calculator into the Dock

You won’t use the Calculator if it’s any trouble to launch it, so put it in the Dock so you can launch it in a hurry. (Leave the Calculator in the Applications folder so Apple can find it when it’s time to update it.)

Calculator in the Dock
Calculator in the Dock

BONUS: easiest way to put it into the Dock is to find it in the Applications folder, double-click to launch, notice that it’s TEMPORARILY put itself into the Dock, and then click and hold on the Calculator (in the Dock), slide to Options, and then to Keep in Dock. It takes less time to do it than to read about it!

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2. The Calculator has three modes: Basic, Scientific, and Programmer

Switch between them from the keyboard using ⌘-1, ⌘-2, ⌘-3, or choose as desired from the View menu. (You can click the green button at top left of the Calculator to toggle between Basic and Scientific views.)

Three kinds of Calculators on the Mac
Basic, Scientific, and Programmer modes for the calculator

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3. Use the keyboard for data entry

You can enter numbers using the numeric keypad that might be on your keyboard rather than click-click-clicking on the number buttons on the Calculator itself. Or use the number keys across the top of the keyboard. Either way, entering numbers from the keyboard is much faster and easier than clicking numbers on the screen with your mouse, so use the keyboard if you can.

Use the number keys on the keyboard for data entry
Use the number keys on the keyboard for data entry

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4. The Calculator has a “paper tape”

The Calculator has a paper tape which keeps track of what you’ve entered. Find it under the Window menu (or use the shortcut ⌘-T). You can select and copy from the paper tape, print it, or save it. Handy stuff.

Calculator's Paper Tape window
Calculator’s Paper Tape window

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5. The Calculator can do conversions

It knows areas, lengths, volumes, temperatures, and a lot more… including currency. So, if you’re going to France and you want to know how many Euros you’ll get for 100 US dollars, use the Calculator and find out.

  1. Launch Calculator
  2. Type in “100”
  3. Select “Currency…” from the “Convert” menu
  4. Choose the From and the To, then click Convert.
Mac Calculator's Convert menu
Mac Calculator’s Convert menu
Converting Dollars to Euros using the Calculator
Dollars to Euros conversion using the Calculator

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6. Show commas to separate the thousands, millions, and so on

If you want the commas, choose “Show Thousands Separators” from the View menu. They make things more readable so I show the commas.

Show Thousands Separators
Show Thousands Separators
Calculator without, and with, commas for thousand separators

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7. The Calculator can speak the buttons you’ve pressed

The Calculator can speak the buttons you’ve pressed, giving you audible feedback that the button you pressed is the one you wanted to press. Besides being useful to grown-ups this is also fun for the little ones who are just learning their numbers. Look for the Speech menu and choose “Speak Button Pressed.”

Calculator: Speak Button Pressed
Calculator: Speak Button Pressed

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That’s all seven. Know another one? Let me know in the comments!


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6 thoughts on “Seven Tips and Shortcuts for the Mac Calculator app

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  1. You can also use the calculator from spotlight! Just type in your calculation and look for the result next to the calculator icon! Complicated strings may be too difficult here, but if you just want to do a quick check on simple math, it's great.

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