Using and creating voice commands on your Mac is not as difficult as you may think, using what is called the “speakable commands” feature already installed in iOS X.

Though I strongly recommend Dragon Dictate for issuing default and custom voice commands on the Mac, the voice dictation program in OS X includes dozens of built-in commands, and the ability to create custom commands without breaking out Automator.

The video below provides an overview of the dictation and voice commands feature in OS X El Capitan. But I also provide a written explanation of using Dictation Command program for even more clarity.

Locating Dictation & Speech

To locate the Dictation program on your Mac, Go to System Preferences >Dictation & Speech, and then click on the Dictation button. Enable Dictation and select the mic you want to use.

Dictation feature

After you press the keyboard shortcut, you can dictate text in any application on the Mac. Unlike with Dragon Dictate, it’s difficult to voice edit dictated text using Apple’s dictation program, but you can certainly make manual edits after dictation. The dictation program works similar to Siri on the iOS. Note: Below, there’s a link to a spreadsheet that includes the default commands for voice editing text using Apple’s dictation command.

All the instructions below refer to the above System Preferences>Dictation & Speech window.

Mac Voice Commands 

To utilize Mac voice commands, click on the Text To Speech button, and then click Open Assess ability Preferences…. Scroll down and click on Dictation.


This voice command feature can be used even when you’re not dictating text, and you can uncheck the “Mute audio output while dictating,” which means in some cases you can issue commands while playing ambient music on your Mac, as long as the music doesn’t get the way of your Mac’s ability to hear your commands and text dictations. (Note: in the video, I indicate that program automatically mutes audio output when the dictation program is enabled. But in my test, it does work with ambient music playing.)

Default Dictation Commands

Now click on the  Dictation Commands… button. In this window, you can browse all the dictation commands set up for the Mac. If the commands are not listed, click on the “Enable advanced commands” button. The commands are broken down into following:

  • Selection commands (for selecting text.)
  • Navigation commands  ( for navigating items on the screen.)
  • Editing (dictated text.)
  • Formatting  (dictated text.)
  • System command (for using the dictation program.)
  • Document (for activating menu items in document applications.)

Note: in my tests, the editing and formatting commands do not work consistently, or work at all, but give them a try anyway to see if they work for you.

Creating Custom Commands

It’s pretty easy to create custom commands without using Automator. Issue the command, “Show Commands” and a list of commands will appear. Scroll down and you will see that you can issue commands to selectively open any application on your Mac. For instance, you can issue the command, “Switch to Activity Monitor,” and it will be quickly open that application. You can also issue the command, “Hide [or Quit] Activity Monitor.”

You can also create commands for various Mac actions and tasks, including opening Finder items and URLs, pasting text and data, selecting menu shortcuts, and pressing keyboard shortcuts. Speakable-command_2 For example, to create a command to download a specified URL, navigate to the webpage you want to create the command for. Enable the dictation program, and then issue the command, “Make this speakable.” The command will set up a command for the selected webpage. The URL for the page should be pasted in the speakable command window. Add the voice command you want to use to download the page, such as “Go to Mac Automation Tips.” Speakable command After saving the command, simply issue the command you typed, when the Dictation is enabled.

Menu Commands

You can also create a command for application menu items. Go to the application you want to create command for, and then enable Dictation. Select, but don’t click, the item you want to make speakable. For instance, Safari>Bookmarks>Add Bookmark…. Speakable command_three Now issue the command, “Make this speakable”. A command should be set up with the menu item and its name added. You can change the command to one that you can more easily remember. But note, each voice command must be unique. Dictation command_5

Other Commands

To create a command for a keyboard shortcut, click the desktop and issue the “Make this speakable” command. In the pop-up window, select  “Press Keyboard Shortcut…” and then click the desired keyboard shortcut you want to create a command for. Add a voice command, and click save. Screenshot command A similar process can be down for creating a command for opening select Finder items. Select the item and then issue command for making it speakable. The same goes for text. Select the text and make it speakable. When the Dictation Command window is open, you can manually create commands by selecting an Perform action from the drop-down selection. All your custom commands will get listed the Accessibility preferences where the default commands are listed. This is where you can select and delete commands. User commands

Automator Commands

You can also create workflows in Automator that can be added as voice commands. After starting a new Automator document, select the Dictation Command button, and from there create your workflow. Automated commands

Best Uses

Naturally, voice dictation on your Mac is best used in quiet environments in which there’s no ambient voices that might trigger  or interrupt your text dictation or voice commands.

To use  voice commands effectively,  make a regular habit of enabling the Dictation Command, or even leave it on during long stretches of  work at your computer. The more you use commands, the easier it will get, and you will remember the commands that are most important to your day-to-day workflow.

I typically leave Dragon Dictate on while I’m doing work, and I have mapped the keyboard shortcut for enabling and disabling Dragon Dictate two a BetterTouchTool finger gesture so that I can easily control the application beyond using my voice. The same could be done for Apple’s Dictation Command if it’s assigned a custom shortcut.

Let me know what you think of Apple’s dictation program, and how you’re using it in your workflow. If you’re new to voice commands on the Mac, subscribe to this site and download the free cheat sheet by clicking on the button below.

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