12:18 pm xkeyboard-config

A question to all native speakers. What is the right way:

Alt+Shift change layout


Alt+Shift changes layout

24 Responses

  1. Mike Says:

    That’s a bit of a sentence fragment, you could have:

    Alt+Shift to change layout (instruction)


    Alt+Shift changes the layout (statement of effect)

    If it really has to be one of the two choices you provided, I’d go with Alt+Shift changes layout, but be aware it sounds a bit awkward.

  2. Mark Kowarsky Says:


  3. Sergey Udaltsov Says:

    Mike: I guess “statement of effect” is what I want. But why should I use the singular form?

  4. Jeremy Bicha Says:


  5. Benjamin Kudria Says:

    You can actually have it both ways:

    The keys Alt+Shift change layout.


    The key combo Alt+Shift changes layout.

    Keys is plural, key combo is singular, of course, so both are valid, but people will call/think of Alt+Shift as a different entity.

  6. Joseph Says:

    “The keys Alt+Shift change layout.”

    To me, this implies that both Alt as well as Shift by themselves change the layout. I.e. Alt will change the layout, and Shift will also change the layout.

    “The key combination” is implicitly in front of “Alt+Shift”.

  7. Sergey Udaltsov Says:

    2all: thanks, you nearly convinced me. Either “changes” or … I will have to rethink the whole thing.

  8. ethana2 Says:

    I’m sorry our language sucks so hard…
    May we at some point recover from its dominance..

  9. Matthew W. S. Bell Says:

    The problem you are experiencing here is due to the fact dropping words from the ‘full’ sentence (leaving them implicit which is acceptable in English) but you do not actually know which ‘full’ sentence you want to use.

    @ethana2: Go away. English is great, and the reason that it is great is because it absorbs useful words and features; it changes to meet people’s needs; and it doesn’t have a bureau defining its use. Go learn Esperanto.

  10. Kevin Lange Says:

    `(The key combination) Alt+Shift` is singular. You want “changes”.

  11. Sean Says:

    Ethana2, it has nothing to do with the language itself. :) It has to do with computer slang and notation.

    The term “Alt+Shift” is most commonly pronounced as “Alt-Shift” (a single conjugated noun) and almost never as “Alt plus Shift” (a phrase comprising a pair of nouns). Thus, Alt+Shift should be considered plural.

    It’s not English’s fault that Alt+Shift is pronounced that way. If the people coming up with computer terminology actually followed the damn language rules, it would be written “Alt and Shift” or at least “Alt&Shift,” because you certainly aren’t calculating the sum of Alt plus Shift. Those people chose to use a grammatically invalid notation for writing things down, though, and hence you cannot rely on the rules of the language for figuring it out.

    As “Alt+Shift” was technically meant to be a short-hand notation for “the key combination comprised of pressing Alt and Shift simultaneously.” Since that is singular, that is probably why the notation is pronounced in a singular form.

    Mike is incorrect about it being a sentence fragment. Alt+Shift is the subject (as Alt+Shift is a notation that is treated as a noun), changes is the verb, and layout is the object. “Alt+Shift changes layout.” is a complete statement in English and is exactly how any English speaker familiar with computers would describe a key combination and its effect.

  12. Tester Says:

    I guess it depends if you read it “Alt-Shift changes…” or “Alt and Shift change…”

  13. Simos Says:

    OT: Do you press Alt and Shift at the same time, or
    do you press and keep down the Alt key then hit Shift?
    Is it different if you press ‘Alt then Shift’ or ‘Shift then Alt’ (if you have >2 layouts)?

    The notation ‘Alt+Shift’ is a notation of convenience, that, for usability purposes, may need to change.

    Some propositions,
    Alt⇗Shift Alt⤴Shift Alt⬈Shift Alt⬏Shift

    or just ‘Press Alt, then hit Shift to change layout’.

  14. alvarezp Says:

    “Alt and Shift change…” means that any of the keys change the layout.

    You would read “Alt+Shift” out loud as “Alt with Shift”, which comes back again to “changes”.

  15. Jeff Parsons Says:

    Alt+Shift is a key sequence (or possibly unordered combination — it’s hard to tell without context).

    Either way, we’re talking about that sequence (singular) rather than each of the items in the sequence (plural). At least, I assume so, since I’ve only ever heard it read as “alt shift” (a name for the combination, if you will), not “alt and shift”.

    So I would say it should be the singular form: “Alt+shift changes layout”.

  16. Michael "Native Speaker" Howell Says:

    Normally, I’d think of Alt+Shift as singular, like 2+2 would be (the combination of Alt and Shift, or the combination of two and two). Also, using it in a singular context implies that they must be used together.

    Either “Alt+Shift changes the layout” or “Press Alt+Shift to change the layout” would be my recommendation.

  17. Alex Stansfield Says:


  18. daniels Says:

    ‘changes’ is easiest.

  19. Karl Lattimer Says:

    The proper form of the sentence should be “The keys Alt+Shift will change the layout”

    Although “Alt+Shift changes the layout” is ok because of the pluralisation of changes for the two keys, however specifying that they are keys and not Alt+Shift monkey badgers is the better form of the plural.

  20. Rob Says:

    It seems you mean this as instructions for the user, in which case it should be:

    ‘To change the layout hold down Shift and press the ‘Alt’ key’

  21. Sergey Udaltsov Says:

    Rob: too verbose, in my taste… There are multiple similar options, having them all like that… brrr

  22. Andrew Says:

    Rob: more verbose does not automatically mean clearer. “Alt+Shift” is a commonly used and understood notation.

    Btw, despite its verbosity your sentence isn’t fully precise. It should really be “To change the layout hold down Shift and press the ‘Alt’ key, or hold down Alt and press the ‘Shift’ key, or press them both simultaneously.” *wink*

  23. Rob Says:

    @Sergey: Well, I only went with the verbose option here as pressing alt and shift togther is a pretty strange key combo. ‘Press Alt-A to change the layout’ or ‘Press Ctrl-C … ‘ are probably pretty understandable to the general population though.

    Actually Isn’t alt+shift a really really bad key combo, as you can have user defined key combos that are alt+shift+character?

    @Andrew: I wasn’t being verbose to be precise, hence just one simple explanation that will suffice. Your point actually supports what I’ve just said above ;)

  24. Sergey Udaltsov Says:

    Rob: as a person constantly switching between RU and US, I am telling you – Alt-A is very unnatural. I hate Apple for using Cmd+Space for layout switching. Modifier-only switch shortcuts are much more natural (and you can see that looking at xkeyboard-config, symbols/group file).

    > Actually Isn’t alt+shift a really really bad key combo
    It is so good that even Microsoft is using it;)

    > as you can have user defined key combos that are alt+shift+character?
    No, ATM user-defined combos are impossible.