Many beginners ask the question:
What do the function keys do?
The function keys, called F keys, actually perform two functions.
Purpose #1: Control your computer
The first is to do the action represented by the symbol on the key. For example, F1 and F2 often decrease the brightness and increase the brightness of you screen.
But not always.
Each PC (personal computer) manufacturer assigns different functions to different keys.
So on a different computer the brightness might be controlled by the F3 and F4 keys. Or the the F7 and F8 keys. You just have to familiarise yourself with your own keyboard.
These are the functions that are normally available:
Purpose #2: Control your program
Different programs like Word and Excel also use the F keys to perform particular shortcuts.
Some of these functions are universal. For example, the F1 key in most programs is the HELP key.
But other functions are unique to the program.
For example, pressing F4 in Word will repeat the last action, but F4 in Excel, fixes a cell reference in a formula.
Program shortcut keys are fixed - they won’t change if you use another computer.
Primary vs Secondary (alternative) functions
The F1 to F12 keys perform the primary functions.
The F13 to F24 keys perform the secondary functions.
You may be confused and for good reason because your computer does not have physical F13 to F24 keys. To get these additional keys you must hold down the Fn key.
So F1 and Fn F1 perform 2 different functions.
Now, to make matters even more confusing, some computer manufacturers assign F1 to F12 to perform the computer functions such as brightness and volume. But to use F4 as a shortcut key in a program you need to press Fn F4.
But other computer manufacturers set up things the other way around. So to use the F4 shortcut key in a program you just press F4. But to control the volume and brightness, you have to press Fn and the appropriate function key.
Don’t worry. You'll get used to it.
I hope you found plenty of value in this post. I'd love to hear your biggest takeaway in the comments below together with any questions you may have.
Have a fantastic day.
About the author
Jason loves to simplify the hard stuff, cut the fluff and share what actually works. Things that make a difference. Things that slash hours from your daily work tasks. He runs a software training business in Queensland, Australia, lives on the Gold Coast with his wife and 4 kids and often talks about himself in the third person!