Quick guide: How to use the function keys (F1 to F12) on the top row of your keyboard?

AUTHOR:  JASON MORRELL 

Jason Morrell

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Many beginners ask the question:

What do the function keys do?

Every keyboard has 12 function keys

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:

  • Screen brightness - decrease and increase
  • Volume - mute, decrease and increase
  • Video/audio - play or pause
  • Settings
  • Switch desktops
  • Search
  • Connect to other wireless devices such as bluetooth

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.

The FN key toggles between the primary functions and the secondary function keys

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.   

Computers hey!

Please feel free to post any questions you have into the comments below. And before you leave this page, I want to give you one quick little action item! 

ACTION ITEM: Comment below with ONE thing you picked up from this post and share how it has helped, or will help, you. It's good to share your successes because it encourages others and provides an instant boost.

Enjoy the rest of your day!

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About Jason Morrell

About the author

Jason Morrell


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!

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