The best ways to select text on your phone and computer

You might have been selecting text wrong all this time.
person holding phone
Make sure you're selecting the text that you mean to select. Jonas Leupe / Unsplash

Selecting text on phones and computers is something you most likely have to do multiple times throughout the day. From pasting an address into a chat conversation to copying a quote from a webpage, being able to accurately pick out words is an essential skill in the digital age.

But chances are you’ve been doing this in the same way for decades now—clicking or tapping and dragging with your mouse or finger. On both mobile and desktop, there are handy shortcuts you can use to select text faster and more accurately.

Selecting text on Android and iOS

When it comes to text selection, you’ll notice some variation on smartphones, because different operating systems may not allow app developers to enable text selection features in the same way. But these techniques should work smoothly in the most common apps, like web browsers, document editors, and note-taking apps, for example.

On Android, a double-tap or a long press on a word will select it in its entirety. But if you then want to select more words on either side of the first one, keep your finger pressed down and drag it around the screen. You can also tap and drag the blue handles that appear at the edge of selected text to extend the selection character by character.

[Related: The fastest way to scan text on an iPhone or iPad]

When you select text, a pop-up menu will appear above it: Pick Select all from this menu (you may have to tap the three dots first) to highlight all the available text in a particular area. This might include all the text in a chat message, a field on a web form, or an entire document. This pop-up menu also gives you access to Copy and Share options you can use to move the text somewhere else.

Over on iOS, the approach is similar: You can either tap and hold, or double-tap on a word to select it. Let your finger go, and you’ll see blue handles appear on either side of the word. If you need to, drag the handles out to extend the selection further, character by character.

For selecting large blocks of text, tap and hold on a word, then keep your finger pressed down. If you then move your finger around, the selection expands word by word, so you can quickly get entire sentences or paragraphs selected. Once you release your finger from the screen, you’ll see the blue handles appear.

One difference from Android is that you can also triple-tap with one finger to select an entire paragraph. With text selected, a pop-up menu appears above it, giving you options to Select all (highlight all the text on a page or in a particular section of an app) and to Copy the text to the iPhone clipboard so that you can paste it in another app.

Selecting text on Windows and macOS

With access to a keyboard and a mouse or trackpad, you’ve got a bit more flexibility when it comes to selecting text compared to your smartphone. You can simply click and drag across a section of text of course, but there are also lots of other text selection tips to know about.

One trick that works on both Windows and macOS is to double-click to quickly select a word—if you then keep the mouse or trackpad button pressed down, you can extend the selection a word at a time in either direction. For paragraphs, change it to a triple-click: As with words, you can either leave the selection on a single paragraph or drag the cursor around to select additional paragraphs.

On your computer, there are no pop-up menus like there are on mobile, but there are keyboard shortcuts. Ctrl+A on Windows and Cmd+A on macOS will select all of the text in a document or webpage, for example. With text selected, Ctrl+C on Windows and Cmd+C on a Mac will copy the text to the clipboard, while Ctrl+V or Cmd+V will cut it.

You can also right-click on a selected portion of text to bring up a context-sensitive menu. The options on this menu will vary depending on the program you’re currently using, but you should find both Copy and Cut. You might also see options to Delete the text and Share it somewhere else.

[Related: 20 essential Windows keyboard shortcuts that will make you forget your mouse]

If you’re more comfortable using keyboard shortcuts to select text, you’ve got plenty of alternatives. On both Windows and macOS, Shift+Left Arrow and Shift+Right Arrow will select text to the left or right one character at a time. You can also use Shift+Up Arrow and Shift+Down Arrow to select entire lines of text at a time. A caveat, though—the selection cursor will jump to the same spot on the adjacent line, so if you want to select clean lines of text, it might get a bit messy. This is a good reason to refine your selection: Hold down Ctrl (Windows) or Option (macOS) at the same time, and the selection expands a word at a time rather than a character.

You can use Shift+Home (Windows) or Cmd+Shift+Left Arrow (macOS) to select all the text on the current line to the left, and Shift+End (Windows) or Cmd+Shift+Right Arrow to select all the text on the current line to the right. There’s also Ctrl+Shift+Home (Windows) or Cmd+Shift+Up Arrow (macOS) to select everything between the current position and the top of a document or webpage, and Ctrl+Shift+End (Windows) or Cmd+Shift+Down Arrow (macOS) to select everything between the current position and the bottom of a document or webpage.