Emacs Keybinding Syntax Examples

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

This page shows sample syntax for defining keys in emacs.

In the following, the left-char is a example command. Replace it with the command name you want.

Single Modifier Key

(global-set-key (kbd "M-a") 'left-char) ; Alt+a
(global-set-key (kbd "C-a") 'left-char) ; Ctrl+a

Function keys and Special keys

(global-set-key (kbd "<f3>")   'left-char)   ; F3 key
(global-set-key (kbd "<kp-3>") 'left-char)   ; the “3” key on number pad

(global-set-key (kbd "<insert>") 'left-char) ; Ins key
(global-set-key (kbd "<delete>") 'left-char) ; Del key ⌦ (forward delete)

(global-set-key (kbd "<home>") 'left-char)
(global-set-key (kbd "<end>") 'left-char)

(global-set-key (kbd "<next>") 'left-char)   ; page down key
(global-set-key (kbd "<prior>") 'left-char)  ; page up key

(global-set-key (kbd "<left>") 'left-char)   ; (global-set-key (kbd "<right>") 'left-char)  ; (global-set-key (kbd "<up>") 'left-char)     ; (global-set-key (kbd "<down>") 'left-char)   ; 
(global-set-key (kbd "DEL") 'left-char) ; backspace key ⌫
(global-set-key (kbd "RET") 'left-char) ; Enter/Return key ⏎
(global-set-key (kbd "SPC") 'left-char) ; Space bar key

(info "(elisp) Function Keys")

Menu/App Key

Emacs: How to Define Menu Key.

Super and Hyper Keys

Emacs: How to Bind Super Hyper Keys.

Key Sequence

;; Example of single key sequence
(global-set-key (kbd "<f7>") nil) ; good idea to put nil to the starting key
(global-set-key (kbd "<f7> <f8>") 'calendar)
(global-set-key (kbd "<f7> <f9>") 'calc)
;; Example of sequence of single or chord keys

(global-set-key (kbd "C-e") nil) ; good idea to put nil to the starting key
(global-set-key (kbd "C-e a") 'calendar)  ; Ctrl+e a
(global-set-key (kbd "C-e SPC") 'calendar)  ; Ctrl+e Space
(global-set-key (kbd "C-e C-a") 'calendar); Ctrl+e Ctrl+a

1 Modifier + Special Key

(global-set-key (kbd "M-<f3>") 'left-char) ; Alt+F3
(global-set-key (kbd "C-<f3>") 'left-char)  ; Ctrl+F3
(global-set-key (kbd "S-<f3>") 'left-char)  ; Shift+F3

(global-set-key (kbd "M-<up>") 'left-char)  ; Alt+↑
(global-set-key (kbd "C-<up>") 'left-char)  ; Ctrl+↑
(global-set-key (kbd "S-<up>") 'left-char)  ; Shift+↑

2 Modifier Keys

2 modifier keys pressed simultaneously, plus a letter key:

(global-set-key (kbd "M-A") 'left-char) ; Alt+Shift+a
(global-set-key (kbd "C-A") 'left-char) ; Ctrl+Shift+a
(global-set-key (kbd "C-M-a") 'left-char) ; Ctrl+Alt+a

Example of 2 modifier keys with a digit key:

(global-set-key (kbd "M-#") 'left-char)       ; Alt+Shift+3 or Alt+#
(global-set-key (kbd "C-#") 'left-char)       ; Ctrl+Shift+3 or Ctrl+#
(global-set-key (kbd "C-M-3") 'left-char)     ; Ctrl+Alt+3

(global-set-key (kbd "C-S-<kp-3>") 'left-char); Ctrl+Shift+“number pad 3”

3 Modifier Keys

3 modifier keys pressed simultaneously:

(global-set-key (kbd "C-M-S-a") 'left-char)   ; Ctrl+Alt+Shift+a
(global-set-key (kbd "C-M-!") 'left-char)     ; Ctrl+Alt+Shift+1 or Ctrl+Alt+!
(global-set-key (kbd "C-M-S-<up>") 'left-char); Ctrl+Alt+Shift+↑

No Modifiers

A shortcut can be created without any modifier keys.

(global-set-key (kbd "3") 'left-char)
(global-set-key (kbd "a") 'left-char)
(global-set-key (kbd "é") 'left-char)
(global-set-key (kbd "α") 'left-char)
(global-set-key (kbd "你") 'left-char)

Emacs's keybinding system is based on character input, not on key-presses. That's why you can define a key such that when the character alpha α is entered, it invokes the command. For how to enter Unicode characters, see Emacs: Unicode Tutorial.

[see Emacs's Key Syntax Explained]

Emacs Keybinding How-To Topic

  1. How to Define Keys
  2. Change Major Mode Keys
  3. Change Minor Mode Keys
  4. Fix Minor Mode Key Priority
  5. Define Key Sequence
  6. How to Bind Super Hyper Keys
  7. How to Define Menu Key
  8. Remapping Keys Using key-translation-map
  9. Bind Number Pad Keys
  10. How to Set Mouse Buttons
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