Mac Basics: Dictation lets you speak text instead of typing

Learn about Dictation in OS X Mountain Lion and later.

Getting started with Dictation

With Dictation, you can use your voice instead of typing text. No setup or special training is required.

Turning Dictation on or off; setting Dictation preferences

  1. Choose Apple () > System Preferences.
  2. From the View menu, choose Dictation & Speech.
  3. Click "On" to turn Dictation on, or "Off" to turn it off.

In Dictation preferences, you can choose a shortcut key, choose your language, and change the input source if needed.

Using Dictation in an application

To use Dictation in an OS X app, simply follow these steps:

  1. Select a text field.
  2. Press the fn (Function) key twice, or choose Edit > Start Dictation.
  3. Dictate (speak) what you want to have inserted into the text field.
  4. When finished, click Done or press the fn key again. Your spoken words then appear in the text field.

Your computer listens for up to 30 seconds at a time. If you need to dictate longer sentences, see the Enhanced Dictation section later in this article. The purple input meter indicates how loud your voice is. If it is too low, try moving closer to your microphone or speaking louder.
dictation indicator

  • If there is no purple color at all, check that your microphone and sound input are set up correctly. See the “Using microphones” section of this article for more information.
  • If the purple indicator is continually more than halfway up the microphone icon, then there might be too much background noise, and Dictation may be less accurate.
  • If the purple indicator does not move up and down at all, try moving closer to the microphone or speaking louder.

Using Enhanced Dictation with Mavericks

You can use Enhanced Dictation in OS X Mavericks to dictate without an active Internet connection. To use Dictation when offline, enable Enhanced Dictation in the Dictation & Speech pane of System Preferences while you are connected to the Internet.

The first time you turn on Enhanced Dictation, OS X downloads additional content that allows Dictation to work offline. The amount of free disk space required to download this additional content varies depending on the language you are using. After the additional software downloads, you can use Dictation even when an Internet connection is not available.

With Enhanced Dictation, text appears as you speak. This allows you to dictate continuously. Enhanced Dictation automatically stops listening when you switch to another window, or if you press the Fn key again, or when you click Done.

Dictation requires an Internet connection with Mountain Lion

Dictation in Mountain Lion needs an active Internet connection. If you have a proxy server on your network, at your workplace for example, Dictation may appear to have no Internet connection. In rare circumstances, a very slow connection may cause delays between when you speak a word and when it then appears in a text field when finished. To learn what network ports Dictation uses, see, "Well known TCP and UDP ports used by Apple software products."

Dictating commands

Dictation understands basic text-related commands such as “all caps,” “new paragraph,” and “new line.”

When you say “period,” “comma,” “question mark,” or “exclamation point,” Dictation adds that punctuation in the current text field. When speaking a calendar date  (such as “January 30, 1983”) you do not need to say "comma". The comma is automatically detected and entered for you.

You can insert emoticons into a text field by saying "smiley face" or "frowny face" for example.

Detailed list of Dictation commands

Note: Some of these commands may vary by language and dialect.

Punctuation Result
open bracket [
close bracket ]
open parenthesis (
close parenthesis )
open brace {
close brace }
open angle bracket <
close angle bracket >
colon :
comma ,
dash -
exclamation mark !
period / point / dot / full stop .
question mark ?
quote "
end quote "
begin single quote '
end single quote '
semicolon ;
Typography Result
ampersand &
asterisk *
at sign @
backslash \
forward slash /
caret ^
center dot ·
large center dot
degree sign °
hashtag / pound sign #
percent sign %
underscore _
vertical bar |
Capitalization Result
caps on formats next phrase in Title Case
caps off resumes default letter case
all caps formats next word in ALL CAPS
all caps on proceeds in ALL CAPS
all caps off resumes default letter case
Currency Result
dollar sign $
cent sign ¢
pound sterling sign £
euro sign
yen sign ¥
Emoticons Result
cross-eyed laughing face XD
frowny face :-(
smiley face :-)
winky face ;-)
Intellectual Property Result
copyright sign ©
registered sign ®
trademark sign
Mathematical Result
equals sign =
greater than sign >
less than sign <
minus sign -
multiplication sign x
plus sign +
Word and Line Result
new line adds line break
numeral formats next phrase as number
roman numeral formats next phrase as Roman numeral
new paragraph adds paragraph break
no space on formats next phrase without spaces
no space off resumes default spacing
tab key advances cursor to the next tab stop

Dictation Tips

Using microphones

You can use the built-in microphone in your Mac, or connect an external third-party microphone using any of the connection types supported by OS X. If you use a different microphone than the one built-in to your Mac, you may need to change the input device in the Dictation & Speech preference pane. If Dictation isn't using the microphone you want, check your settings in Dictation preferences, in System Preferences.

microphone preferences

If your computer or display does not have a built-in microphone, you need to connect an external microphone in order to use Dictation.

Accents and Dialects

The more you use Dictation, the better it understands you. Dictation learns the characteristics of your voice and adapts to your accent. For best results, select your dialect from the Language menu in the Dictation pane of System Preferences. Note that some languages (such as English) have multiple options available to choose from.

language settings

Using Dictation with Parental Controls

Dictation is disabled by default in accounts that are managed by Parental Controls. You can enable Dictation via Parental Controls.

Changing the shortcut key

Dictation uses the Function (fn) key by default as the shortcut key to start and stop Dictation, but you can easily change it to a different key. Open System Preferences, click Dictation and Speech, then use the Shortcut pop-up menu. You can press two (or more) keys to create a new shortcut key.

Changing the language

You can select which language to use for Dictation in the Dictation and Speech pane of System Preferences. When your system is set to one of these languages, it automatically enters the right text.

Dictation supports English (U.S., UK, and Australia), French, German, Japanese, Mandarin*, Cantonese*, Spanish*, Korean*, Canadian English*, Canadian French*, and Italian*.

* These languages require OS X Mountain Lion v10.8.2 or later.

Learn more

About Dictation and privacy

When you use Dictation, you can choose to have either your Mac or Apple’s servers perform the speech recognition for you. If you use Mac-based Dictation, your computer will convert what you say into text without sending your dictated speech to Apple.

If you use server-based Dictation, the things you dictate will be recorded and sent to Apple to convert what you say into text and your computer will also send Apple other information, such as your name and nickname; and the names, nicknames, and relationship with you (for example, “my dad”) of your address book contacts (collectively, your “User Data”).  All of this data is used to help the dictation feature understand you better and recognize what you say. It is not linked to other data that Apple may have from your use of other Apple services.

Information collected by Apple will be treated in accordance with Apple's Privacy Policy, which can be found at

You can choose to turn off or change your preferences for Dictation at any time by going to the Dictation & Speech pane within System Preferences. If you turn off Dictation, or switch from using server-based Dictation to Mac-based Dictation, Apple will delete your User Data, as well as your recent voice input data, from Apple’s servers. Older voice input data that has been disassociated from you may be retained for a period of time to generally improve Dictation and Siri functionality in Apple products and services. This voice input data may include audio files and transcripts of what you said and related diagnostic data, such as hardware and operating system specifications and performance statistics.

You can restrict access to the Dictation feature on your computer in the Parental Controls pane of System Preferences.

Last Modified: Sep 2, 2014
  • Last Modified: Sep 2, 2014
  • Article: HT5449
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