TextExpander prefixes

The Abbreviation Prefixes TextExpander Experts Use

A common point of debate among TextExpander users is how to name Snippet abbreviations—the text you type to expand the Snippet. When creating abbreviations, you want to make them:

  • Short and easy to type
  • Memorable
  • Difficult to expand accidentally

For example, if you have a Snippet to respond to an angry customer email, angry would be a poor choice of abbreviation since it would expand every time you type the word “angry.”

It’s helpful to standardize on a prefix or set of prefixes for your Snippet abbreviations so that they can remain short and memorable but also hard to trigger accidentally. For example, instead of the abbreviation angry, you could use any of the following abbreviations with a prefix:

  • /angry
  • ;angry
  • .angry
  • ,,angry
  • xangry
  • cs.angry (cs is short for “customer service”)

The question is: which prefix to settle on? At our Work Smarter Virtual Summit, one TextExpander user asked this of our TextExpander expert panel, which featured:

  • Brett Terpstra of Oracle, who is also a popular blogger, developer, and podcaster in the Apple community
  • Lawyer Laura McClellan of The Productive Woman podcast
  • Martin Ngo, a recruiter formerly with Meta
  • Ty Schalamon, a sales representative and former customer support manager for SketchUp

Here’s a video of the discussion:

Not able to play the video? Click here to watch the video

Pros and cons of comma comma and semicolon

Brett has used TextExpander since 2006 and settled on “comma comma” (,,) as his prefix. Brett demonstrated the effectiveness of this prefix on the panel by quickly reciting his favorite Snippets from memory.

“For example, I have one called Make a Date. ,,mad And when it triggers, it’ll ask me ‘what date’ so I type in next Friday or January 3, and it will then generate a full date based on the format I select whether it’s ISO, long format, short format, and output the date for the day that I asked for,” Brett said on the panel.

Martin Ngo, a recruiter at Meta, uses semicolon for company Snippets and also uses “comma comma” for some Snippets. A single semicolon has been a popular prefix among TextExpander users for years. Curiously, while two commas (,,) and one semicolon (;) are both popular prefixes, two semicolons never took off—perhaps because it’s usually pressed by the pinky finger so a “double tap” is harder to achieve.

The comma and semicolon are in prominent positions on the keyboard, and the comma comma prefix has the bonus advantage of being nearly impossible to trigger accidentally.

However, both of these prefixes have a downside: if you use TextExpander for Mobile, both keys are on the iOS secondary keyboard, and you have to press the 123 key to reveal them. On iPadOS, the comma is easy to reach, but semicolon is pressed either on the secondary keyboard or by swiping down on the “n” key.

Period or x for mobile-friendly abbreviations

Laura mentioned using period (.) or X as prefixes for many of her Snippets.

Both of these prefixes are easily accessible on either the iOS virtual keyboard or on a physical keyboard. Period is right next to the comma on most keyboards, so it’s still fairly easy to reach. X is especially easy to reach, as it’s a letter and doesn’t require any stretching, but Snippets with an X prefix are slightly easier to trigger accidentally.

In fact, Brett has been migrating from “comma comma” to “period” for the sake of mobile usage.

“I traditionally use ‘comma, comma,’ but ‘comma, comma’ doesn’t work well on iOS, because you’ve got to switch to the symbol keyboard to use the comma. So I changed a lot of them to use dot [period],” Brett says.

Slash for URLs

Brett and Ty both mentioned using one (/) or two forward slashes (//) for URLs. A slash is an easy-to-remember shortcut for website addresses because they all have slashes, like https://textexpander.com/. By using two slashes in the abbreviation, you reduce the chance of accidental expansions.

The nice thing about using TextExpander Snippets for URLs is that—unlike bookmarks—you can use them in any browser.

Some examples:

  • //yt for https://www.youtube.com/
  • //te for https://textexpander.com/

The other advantage of using Snippets for URLs is that you can use them not only for navigating in a Web browser, you can also use those Snippets to share the URL with others since you can use Snippets in any app.

Here are a couple of tips for working with URLs in TextExpander:

  • Keep them all in a single group.
  • Right-click (or Option-click) the group in TextExpander and choose Group Settings. Set Expand When to “any character precedes abbreviation” so the Snippets will expand consistently in your browser.
  • Also in the Group Settings, we recommend setting your Group Prefix to // so you don’t have to manually add it to each Snippet.

A mixed approach: different prefixes for different purposes

We hinted at it with the trick about using slashes specifically for URLs, but you can expand that concept to use multiple prefixes for different contexts.

Ty told us that’s how SketchUp handles customer service Snippets:

  • Accent key (‘): Regular text-based Snippets.
  • Double accent (‘’): For Snippets with Fill-Ins.
  • Exclamation point (!): For email Snippets.
  • Tilde (~): For an alternative version of the accent key Snippet. “So if they didn’t like the first answer, we use the same text after but with a tilde to maybe explain a little more in depth,” Ty says.

Of course, the trick with this setup is learning the different prefixes in the first place, but the key advantage is you can develop muscle memory for different types of responses.

Using group prefixes to create mnemonic Snippets

Historically, TextExpander experts used various keyboard symbols for their abbreviation prefixes. Rex Mann on our customer success team developed a new best practice to create Snippets that are memorable and easy to find with our Inline Search feature:

  1. Organize your Snippets into Groups.
  2. Assign each Group a two-letter prefix based on the Group name, followed by a dot, like so:
    1. A group called “Calendar” with a group prefix of cal.
    2. A group called “Email” with a group prefix of em.
    3. A group called “Support” with a group prefix of sup.
  3. Give each Snippet in those Groups a short, memorable name. Examples:
    1. cal.invite
    2. em.greeting
    3. sup.firewall

The advantage is that the abbreviations are easy to remember. The downside is that you have to type a few extra characters: em.greeting vs !greeting. However, for long Snippets, a few extra characters isn’t going to slow you down much in the long run. Also consider the time you might save by actually remembering how to trigger your Snippet.

Of course, no matter how memorable your abbreviations are, it can be difficult to remember so many. That’s why TextExpander includes an Inline Search feature so you can look up your Snippets at any time.

Not able to play the video? Click here to watch the video

Want more TextExpander insider tips on making the most of your Snippets? Check out these related resources: