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What use are the “F” keys on a computer?

They’re a feature of every computer keyboard, but most people don’t know what they´re used for. However, the “F” keys on any computer actually contain some very useful functions.


In fact, that’s why they´re called “function” keys; they provide the option of using 12 shortcuts that make working on any computer faster and easier. A lot of people almost never hit them – except for the well-known F5 key, used for refreshing websites. However, many programs have improved their own menus so much that they´ve reduced the importance of the “F” keys.

It should be made clear that their functions of these keys vary according to the program being used or even the operating system; the “F” keys on Windows are not the same as those on MacOS. They are used to assign procedures and are meant to respond in a similar fashion in all places, although that´s not always the case.

Also, when we analyze these keys one by one, we’ll see that there are two (F7 ad F9) that don´t have a specific function. They provide a shortcut to specific programs such as Microsoft Word and Excel. As a result, not all the F keys in a given system or computer can be used. However, they can work in combination with other keys.

A guide to the functions of the “F” keys

F1: When you hit this key, a window opens in the program or application that you´re using.

F2: This key only works when you have selected a file (you can try it on any desktop). Once you do, you can see the effect that hitting F2 produces: it enables you to change the name of any folder or file. This is a function that has fallen into disuse because now, you can right-click on the mouse, or click on the file name and, once it´s selected, change the name.

F3: This key opens the search menu of the program currently being used.

F4: Opens the tool bar or the “go to” menu, so that you can write in the route to a folder. When combined with the “ALT” key, it will close the page or progam you have opened.

F5: The most used F key on the keyboard, it refreshes the content on the screen, whether it´s on Internet or located inside a folder.

F6: If you´re using a browser, this key allows you to write in the address line to change from one website to another. It also allows you to move through the different elements of the browser and of website you are on.

F7: Although it has no specific function, the F7 key is often used in programs such as Microsoft Word. When you hit it, a pop-up window emerges to review spelling and grammar. While you´re surfing the net, it has no specific use.

F8: This key has two assigned and often-used functions: selecting text in Word and –when hit while the computer is starting up – it opens the fail-safe mode.

F9: A priori, F9 has no use when surfing the internet but it is used in specific programs with the following effects: in Word, it updates the text; in Outlook, it sends and receives emails; in Power Point, it opens a presentation; and in Excel it recalculates formulas.

F10: Accesses the main menu bar of the program you’re in and, when used in combination with the “shift” key, opens the menu that appears when you right-click on the mouse.

F11: Hitting this key enable the full-screen mode, in most applications. It´s the typical key that is hit many times by accident and causes a panic. For specific programs like Word, it helps you to quickly find the hyperlinks inserted in a text; in Excel, it allows you to insert graphics.

F12: Opens the website you are seeing on the Internet in HTML mode. This shows the browser console, an area designed for experts since it requires some knowledge of programming. Also, for programs such as Word or Excel, it gives you quick access to the “Save as” function.