How To: The Way You Select Text on Your iPhone Will Change Once You Know These Hidden Tricks

The Way You Select Text on Your iPhone Will Change Once You Know These Hidden Tricks

While there's no denying that iPads are better when it comes to multitasking and productivity, your iPhone has a few tricks up its sleeve to rival even the best iPad features. One thing about iPadOS is that it's really easy to highlight editable text with gestures, but it's just as simple on iOS if you know all the secrets.

Out of all the methods outlined below, Option 8 is probably the coolest since hardly anybody knows about it. So if you look at any of these tips, make sure that's the one you don't miss. But before we get to the little-known text selection tricks, let's talk about the standard way to select text, which varies based on the iOS version.

The Normal Way to Select Text to Edit

On iOS 12, you would tap where you wanted to add the insertion point (cursor), hold for a brief microsecond, then let go to reveal a menu where you could choose between "Select" and "Select All." You could also tap the text field, slide your finger to place the insertion point with the magnifier, and let go to reveal the menu. Then, you could drag a grab point to select more or less text.

That won't work on iOS 13 or iOS 14. Instead, you need to place the insertion point in the right spot, tap the cursor to reveal the menu, choose "Select" or "Select All," then drag a grab point to select more or less text. Alternatively, you could tap-and-hold a word or number until it highlights itself, then drag the grab points.

On iOS 13 only, after selecting a word or number using tap-and-hold, you can also start dragging the grab points without lifting your finger off the screen. For some reason, this was omitted in iOS 14.

Option 1: Double-Tap to Highlight Words or Numbers

To select a word or number faster than tapping-and-holding on iOS 12, 13, and 14, double-tap it instead. You can then drag the grab points as needed. Even better, keep your finger on the screen on the second tap, then move your finger left, right, up, or down to expand the highlighted selection.

Option 2: Triple-Tap to Highlight Sentences

On iOS 13 and 14, triple-tapping a word or number will select the whole sentence that it's in. Then, you can drag the grab points to select more words, numbers, sentences, paragraphs, etc., if necessary. However, your mileage will vary.

While Apple touts this method on its iOS 13 and 14 user manuals, triple-tapping could select an entire paragraph in real life. I've tested various iOS updates with the same text documents, and triple-tapping will highlight sentences in iOS 13.0, but it highlights paragraphs for me on iOS 13.6.1, 13.7, 14.0.1, 14.2, 14.3, 14.4.2, and 14.5. It's a shame, but hopefully, Apple will fix the issue soon. We've reached out to Apple but haven't heard back yet.

Option 3: Quadruple-Tap to Highlight Paragraphs

Also on iOS 13 and 14, you can tap a word or number four times rapidly to select the entire paragraph that it's in. However, if you've read Option 2 above, you'll know that you only need to quadruple-tap if triple-tapping highlights a sentence only. Again, hopefully, Apple will fix this issue.

Option 4: Press the Keyboard to Highlight Words or Numbers

Now things are getting interesting. On iOS 12, 13, and 14, you can use 3D Touch on iPhone models with the display technology to unlock the hidden trackpad, place your insertion point, and highlight text.

On a 3D Touch model, press anywhere on the keyboard until it turns light gray, then drag the cursor where needed. Without lifting your finger, release the pressure slightly, then press deep to select the current word or number the insertion point is on. Release your finger when done.

If it's not working, make sure to release the pressure slightly before pressing again. And if it's still not working, make sure you have "3D Touch" enabled in your Accessibility settings. If it's off and you don't want to turn it on, or if you're model doesn't have 3D Touch at all, skip to Option 8 below.

Option 5: Press the Keyboard to Highlight Sentences

As in Option 4, on iOS 12, 13, and 14 with 3D Touch, press anywhere on the keyboard to reveal the trackpad, move the insertion point where needed, and release the pressure slightly. However, instead of pressing deeper again, press deep twice in a row, which should highlight the current sentence, and release your finger.

Option 6: Press the Keyboard to Highlight Paragraphs

Another 3D Touch trackpad gesture on iOS 12, 13, and 14 can select entire paragraphs too. Press anywhere on the keyboard to reveal the trackpad, move the insertion point where needed, and release the pressure slightly. Then, press deep three times in a row, which should highlight the current paragraph, and release your finger.

Option 7: Press & Drag on the Keyboard to Highlight Text

We're not done with 3D Touch yet. On iPhone models running iOS 12, 13, and 14, there's another way to use the hidden trackpad to highlight more than just a word or number, and it's useful when you don't want to highlight an entire sentence or paragraph.

Press anywhere on the keyboard to reveal the trackpad, move the insertion point where needed, release the pressure slightly, then press deeper to select the current word or number. But this time, move your finger left, right, up, or down to drag a grab point and select all the text that you want. Release your finger when done.

Option 8: Press & Drag on the Spacebar to Highlight Text

OK, so you don't have 3D Touch, but that doesn't mean you don't have a hidden trackpad too. Since there is no pressure sensitivity on your iPhone model, deep-pressing on words or numbers will not highlight anything, as seen above.

Instead, press the spacebar until the keyboard turns light gray, then drag the cursor where needed. Without lifting your finger, place a different finger on the trackpad and don't move it. With the finger that initiated the trackpad feature, slide it left, right, up, or down to select more text. Release your fingers when done.

Option 9: Press & Drag on the Spacebar to Highlight Text

It's the same headline as Option 8, but that's because there is supposedly another way to select text on the software trackpad. Apple's iOS 14 user guide lists the following directions. And here's an archived version of the instructions in case Apple ever changes them.

Turn the onscreen keyboard into a trackpad

  1. Touch and hold the Space bar with one finger until the keyboard turns light gray.
  2. Move the insertion point by dragging around the keyboard.
  3. To select text with handles, continue touching and holding the keyboard until handles appear on the insertion point, then move your fingers. (To use the trackpad to move the insertion point, drag the insertion point to a new location before handles appear.)

As you can see, it says to place the insertion point where needed, then wait until "handles" appear, which must mean the grab points. However, no matter how long you wait, nothing will happen unless you place a second finger on the trackpad, as described in Option 8.

Perhaps Option 8 is what Apple meant to list on their site. In step 3 of Apple's guide, it says, "then move your fingers," even though steps 1 and 2 made no mention of any other fingers besides the one. To further confuse things, the parenthetical comment (parentheses added by me) after step 3 just sounds repetitive to steps 1 and 2.

We've reached out to Apple about the issue but haven't heard back yet.

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Cover photo and GIFs by Justin Meyers/Gadget Hacks

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1 Comment

Normally, I'm unimpressed by articles that tout they will teach you something new. However, you did! And it was actually things I really needed to know and will find very useful going forward! Thank you for a well written article!

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