Function keys have been around for almost as long as the keyboard itself. They are believed to have debuted on the IBM 3270 back in 1972 and have been a mainstay for PCs and laptops ever since.
However, despite its long history, the F1-F12 keys remain a mystery to many. Most laptop manufacturers have combined these with commonly used functions such as volume and brightness controls – in which case you need to hold down the Fn key to get the original function. However, the function keys F1-F12 on keyboards often go unused. The only big exception to this is in games, where they are often used for certain controls.
By default, the F-keys have a wide range of functions, so this article will cover only a few of the most common ones.
The most common use of the F1 key is to ask for help, which applies to almost every device. It could be just a settings menu or a web page with support. Likewise, holding down the Windows key while pressing the F1 key will usually open Windows Help and Support Center.
In Microsoft Excel, F1 can be combined with the Alt and Shift keys to create a new worksheet tab.
The F2 key is used to rename the selected shortcut, file or folder in all recent versions of Windows. If you have Microsoft Excel open, F2 will edit the active cell, and when you combine it with the Alt and Ctrl keys, the Open Document screen in Microsoft Word will display. In the same program, using Ctrl and F2 displays a print preview window.
The F3 key has many functions. Perhaps most commonly used to select the search bar on the desktop. It can also open the search function from File Explorer and repeat the last command in the Command Prompt window.
Ctrl + F3 converts any selected text to lowercase in Microsoft Word, and Shift + F3 toggles upper and lower case – this can also be configured to add an uppercase letter to the beginning of each word.
F4 opens the address bar in File Explorer and most browsers, including Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge. Alt + F4 closes the currently active window, while Ctrl + F4 closes a specific tab instead.
The most common F5 function is to refresh the current web page, which is applicable in all modern browsers. This also applies to a folder in any file application where it will update the list of contents. If you want to go further, Ctrl + F5 clears the cache and forces the browser to reload the page.
In Microsoft Word, a single press of the F5 key will open the Find and Replace window. In PowerPoint, F5 starts the slideshow from the beginning, and Shift + F5 starts it from the currently active slide.
F6 moves the cursor to the address bar in most modern browsers, making it easier to find. In Microsoft Word, the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + Shift + F6 opens a new document if you already have an application open.
Many Microsoft applications (including Word, PowerPoint, and Outlook) use the F7 key to activate the built-in spelling and grammar checker. However, highlighting a word and pressing Shift + F7 checks the thesaurus for that word.
F7 can be used to enable an active cursor (when a cursor is added to web pages to navigate and select text using the keyboard) in Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. F7 also opens the Layers menu in Adobe Photoshop.
In a command line application, F7 displays the history of all commands entered in that particular window.
The F8 key is typically used before starting a Windows PC to give you access to advanced startup modes – you may have to press it multiple times for it to work. Here you will find the option to start Windows in Safe Mode.
F8 can also be used to access the Find and Replace window in the Windows TextPad application.
When using Microsoft Word, F9 will update your document. Also this key makes Microsoft Outlook send and receive any unfinished emails.
The F10 key opens menus or similar options in most open Microsoft applications. Pressing Shift + F10 on the highlighted file, link or icon will act the same as right-clicking.
F11 is the most common way to turn full screen mode on and off in most modern web browsers. This also works with some pre-installed Windows applications.
Some PCs only use F11 to access the hidden recovery partition, while others combine it with the Ctrl key.
The F12 key has a wide range of functions in Microsoft Word. Pressing F12 in Word will open the Save As window by itself, and Ctrl + F12 will open the document from Explorer. Shift + F12 acts the same as Ctrl + S to save the document, while Ctrl + Shift + F12 prints the document with the default settings. F12 can also be used to open developer tools in many web browsers, and to access the boot device list if you click a button before booting the device.
There are many ways to customize the F keys or add minor functions to them, but this can be tricky. We’d recommend trying out some of these default features and see what you want to use on a regular basis.