Backspace Definition & Meaning

Backspace moves the cursor or insertion point backward one character space. In addition to moving the cursor backward, the backspace key usually deletes the character to the left of the cursor or insertion point. It is particularly useful for correcting typos.

Note that PCs also have a delete key, which deletes the character under the cursor (or to the right of the insertion point). To move the cursor or insertion point backward without deleting characters, use the arrow keys.

The backspace character has an ASCII value of 8. When inserted in a file, the character causes a printer or other device to move backward one space.

Windows and Mac: Backspace or Delete?

On Windows PCs the backspace key is marked with an arrow pointing to the left, leading some to call it the “back arrow” key. Some keyboard manufacturers may include the word backspace on the key, in addition to the arrow symbol.

On a Macintosh, the backspace key is marked “Delete” and performs the same function as the Windows-based backspace key (deletes the character to the left of the cursor). On a full-sized keyboard, the Windows backspace and Mac delete keys are both located in the top-right.

backspace-windows-mac

Backspace Shortcuts

The backspace, while not a common default shortcut, is used in many web browsers to go back to the previous page. To use this shortcut, press [Alt]+[Backspace]. Chrome, however, uses [Alt]+[left arrow].

In word processing applications (i.e. Microsoft Word, Google Docs) you can delete an entire word to the left of the insertion point using [Ctrl]+[Backspace].

Vangie Beal
Vangie Beal
Vangie Beal is a freelance business and technology writer covering Internet technologies and online business since the late '90s.

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