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iGBHow-toHow to use F keys on Mac

How to use F keys on Mac

Key Takeaways

  • You can use the F keys on Mac to perform the actions printed on them. You can also assign customized functions to them.
  • To use the function keys for different actions, you can enable a setting to require the fn (globe) key to be pressed at the same time. Go to System Settings > Keyboard > Keyboard Shortcuts, select Function Keys, and turn on the “Use F1, F2, etc. keys as standard function keys.

Whether you call them F keys or functions keys, this row of keys across the top of your Mac keyboard can be quite handy. You can do things like increase your screen brightness or decrease your volume with a single key press.

However, you might be confused by the icons printed on the F keys or would like to use these keys for other actions instead. If that’s the case, I have got you covered. In this guide, I’ll explain what each F key on your Mac does, how to use them normally, and how to customize them to fit your needs.

What are the functions of F keys on Mac?

While in most cases, you can see the actions corresponding to the keys’ functions printed right on the F keys, you may still be confused as to how the Mac keys work. Below, I have mentioned each F key in the top row of your keyboard and what it does on macOS.

Mac F Keys Apple
Source: Apple

Keep in mind that the function keys can vary per your Mac or keyboard model. The keys listed here are based on a 2021 MacBook Pro and Magic Keyboard 2.0.6, and should be applicable to most Macs.

Function keyAction
F1Decrease the screen brightness
F2Increase the screen brightness
F3Open Mission Control
F4Summon Spotlight Search
F5Prompts you to enable Dictation*
F6Enable Do Not Disturb*
F7Restart a track or go to the previous audio track
F8Pause or Play audio 
F9Fast forward or go to the next audio track
F10Mute or Unmute audio or volume
F11Decrease the volume
F12Increase the volume

*Note that the F5 and F6 key functions depend on your model and whether you’re using a MacBook backlit keyboard or an external Apple keyboard.

How to use Function keys on Mac

You can use the F keys on your Mac in two different ways.

The first is a simple, one-click method. You can simply press the key to perform the corresponding action. For example, to increase the volume, just press F11. That’s it. Simple!

Now, sometimes, you may accidentally press these F keys while typing, and the F keys will carry out their functions printed on them. This can be a little frustrating. Fortunately, Apple allows you to add another key to the mix so that the printed functions take place only if you use a combination of the globe key (fn) and the F key.

This prevents accidental triggers and also ensures that the F keys continue to operate as standard function keys when used in combination with modifier keys like command, option, control, or shift. Here’s how you add that extra layer of safety:

  1. Open the System Settings using the icon in the Dock or Apple icon in the menu bar.
  2. Select Keyboard → Click Keyboard Shortcuts.
    Go to Keyboard and select Keyboard Shortcuts
  3. In the new window, choose Function Keys at the bottom left.
  4. Toggle on Use F1, F2, etc. keys as standard function keys.
  5. Select Done when you finish, and then close the System Settings.
    Select Functions Keys, toggle on Use F1, F2, etc. keys as standard function keys and tap Done

Once you turn on this setting, hold the globe key (fn) at the bottom left of the keyboard and press the desired F key to perform the action. For instance, to increase the volume, hold fn and press F11.

Tip: If you’ve been trying to use an F key to perform the printed action and it’s not working, make sure the above setting is turned off instead!

How to use F keys on MacBook Pro Touch Bar

If you have a MacBook model with a Touch Bar, using the F keys requires an extra step.

  1. Hold the fn key, which is the bottom leftmost key on the keyboard.
  2. Now, the F keys will appear in the Touch Bar. Then tap on F1 to F12 as per your need.

If you wish to show the F keys on your Touch Bar always for easy, one-tap access, you need to make a change in the System Settings.

  1. Go to System Settings.
  2. Scroll down and pick Keyboard → Select Touch Bar Settings.
    Open System Settings, select Keyboard and tap Touch Bar Settings
  3. Click the drop-down menu next to Touch Bar shows → Select F1, F2, etc. Keys.
    Dropdown besides the Touch Bar Shows and select F1, F2, etc. Keys

Now, on your Touch Bar, you will permanently spot the F keys. Just tap on the F keys once to use their corresponding functions.

How to customize function keys on Mac

If you prefer to only use the function keys in conjunction with the fn key and enable this setting as described above, you can now customize the keyboard shortcuts for those fn + F keys.

  1. Open the System Settings → Select Keyboard → Click Keyboard Shortcuts.
  2. Choose a feature on the left and an action on the right to enter the F key you want to use. For example, I’ll assign the fn + F1 key to toggle Stage Manager.
    • Note: If the same F key is in use for a different keyboard shortcut, you’ll be unable to add it unless you remove it from the other spot first.
  3. You would choose Mission Control on the left, select the current shortcut or “none” for Turn Stage Manager on/off, and press fn + F1.
    Choose Mission Control and select Turn Stage Manager on or off
  4. Double-click on none besides Turn Stage Manager on/off, and press fn + F1.
    Enter the function key you want to set as
  5. You should then see F1 listed as the keyboard shortcut for the Stage Manager action, as in the screenshot below.
  6. Select Done to save your change.
    Select the shortcut key and tap done

To reset the keys to their default settings, go to System Settings → Keyboard → Keyboard Shortcuts, choose the feature on the left, and click Restore Defaults on the right.

How will you use your F keys?

The way in which you use the F keys on your Mac is a personal preference. For instance, if you never use the actions printed on the function keys, it may be beneficial to assign them different actions that are more useful to you. 

What are you going to do with your F keys on Mac? Will you use the actions printed on them or assign them to actions you use more often? Let us know! 

Read more:

  • Sandy

    Sandy relishes crafting how-tos, listicles, and explainers, empowering others to unlock the full potential of their Apple devices. She joined iGeeksBlog in 2023, and her decade-long experience in tech writing shines through, starting with Apple products in 2015 and further enriched by collaborations with prestigious publications like Lifewire, How-To Geek, Digital Trends, iDownloadBlog, MakeUseOf, groovyPost, and AppleToolbox.

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