What do the Function keys do?

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Every Windows keyboard has the same row of keys across the top – the Function keys. Those are the keys at the top of the keyboard labeled F1, F2, F3 and so on up to F12. One of the questions I get asked sometimes is, “What do the function keys actually do?” As with a lot of questions about computers, the answer is: it depends.

function keys


What it depends on primarily is what you’re doing on the computer at the time. Each one of them could have a specific task in one program, but a completely different task in a different program.

For example, if you’re using Microsoft Word, here’s what the F1 key can do:

If you just hit F1 by itself, it opens the Help window so you can search for help on a particular aspect of Word:

function keys


But – if you hold down Shift, then tap F1, Word will open the “Reveal Formatting” window off to the right side, so you can see all of the formatting information for the document that’s open:

function keys



And – if you hold down CTRL and tap F1, it will alternatively close and re-open the ribbon at the top of the window. Makes it easy to toggle that on and off if you want to do that.

There are other things you can do with F1, but you get the idea. And that’s just ONE of the function keys, and that’s JUST for Microsoft Word. All of the other Function keys do different things in Word, and ALL of the Function keys do completely different things in other programs. It would be impossible to literally list all of the things that you can do with the Function keys on all the different software.

However, several of the Function keys are kind of “known for” certain types of functions. Here are some of the more common tasks that are assigned to some of the Function keys:

F1 – in most programs (and in any version of Windows) the F1 key will usually open a “Help” window. So if you’re stuck and not sure what to do, try F1.

F2 – used to rename a file or folder – if you’re in your Documents folder or Pictures folder, highlight a folder or an individual file, and just type the name you want to use.

F3 – opens a search field in many programs. If you’re looking at a website page with lots of text and you need to find a particular word, hit F3 and type the word so search for it on that web page.

F4 – not so much this key by itself, but if you hold down ALT and tap F4, it will close the window that is “in focus” – the one that is in front of any other open windows.

F5 – this key refreshes your web browser window – like if you’re watching an eBay item that’s about to close and you want to see if the high bid amount changes, you can just keep tapping F5 to update the screen.

F6 – highlights the address bar in your web browser – so if you need to type in a new web address, you don’t need to move your cursor up to the address bar and click on it – just tap F6.

F7 – the spellchecker – F7 activates spellchecker function in most Office and email programs.

F8 – in Windows 7 and earlier, this is the key you tap when you want to boot up the computer in Safe Mode. Windows 8 and later made it a little more complicated (one more reason to stick with Windows 7).

F9 – if you use Outlook, you can use F9 to tell it to Send/Receive email, instead of using the cursor on the Send/Receive icon in the toolbar.

F10 – F10 does a few things, but not really too much that the average person would use.

F11 – one of my favorites – it puts your web browser in full screen mode. Go visit a website, and tap F11 to see what happens. You can tap it again to bring it back to normal.

F12 – this one has some functions in MS Word for opening and saving documents, but not much else that you would probably use. Don’t tap it while you’re using a web browser – unless you’re a web developer and you really want to work with computer code. Yeah, me neither.

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Karen M
October 12th, 2015

Great information and I will try work on using more as needed. All spelled out well and easy to understand.
Thank you,