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How to use the F keys on a Mac

The keys you see but hardly ever think about.
By
January 4, 2023

When casting your eye over the Mac keyboard, you will notice a line of F keys at the top. Similar to its Windows counterpart, the Mac’s F1-F12 keys give more features and control to the user. Today, we will look at how to use the F keys on a Mac, what each one of them does, and even how to reprogram them to do what you want them to do.

Read more: How to turn on dark mode on a Mac

QUICK ANSWER

The F keys on a Mac serve two functions. The first is to use them according to the icon on the key. F1 decreases the screen brightness, while F12 increases the audio volume. However, you can also press one of the F keys and the fn key (function key) together to also carry out that function. That must be enabled in the Mac settings. F keys can also be reprogrammed to do other things.


JUMP TO KEY SECTIONS

What are the F keys on a Mac?

macos function f keys

Here is an explanation of what each F key does by default. These are based on the 2020 Macbook Air, running macOS Ventura. Newer Mac models may have different functions for F keys.

  • F1 —  decreases screen brightness.
  • F2 —  increases screen brightness.
  • F3 —  opens and closes Mission Control.
  • F4 —  opens and closes Spotlight.
  • F5 —  opens and closes Dictation.
  • F6 —  enables /disables Do Not Disturb.
  • F7 —  restarts a music track or jumps to the previous track.
  • F8 —  plays or pauses a music track or video file.
  • F9 —  skips a music track or fast forward.
  • F10 —  mutes the volume.
  • F11 —  decreases the volume.
  • F12 —  increases the volume.

However, as we previously indicated, you can also hold down an F key together with the function key (fn) to achieve the same result. But this needs to be enabled first.

Go to System Settings > Keyboard. Click Keyboard Shortcuts.

system settings mac keyboard

Click Function Keys and toggle the green button to enable the feature. Remember to click the green Done button to save your changes.

system settings mac function keys

What’s the advantage of doing this? From now on, to use the standard F key features, you must hold down the function key first. This means that if you press an F key without the function key, you can make it do something else entirely.

By default, most of the F keys don’t do anything else, so you need to remap them to specific tasks. We’ll look at that in a minute.

How to use the F keys on a Mac

If you want to use the standard functions on an F key (decrease brightness or volume, activate Spotlight, etc), then you don’t need to set up anything else. It works immediately as advertised. Just press the key and watch it do its thing.

How to change the F key functions on a Mac

If you have set the standard F key features to only work with the function key, then you can remap the F keys to do something else without the function key.

To do this, go back to System Settings > Keyboard > Keyboard Shortcuts. Here, you will see various Mac features along with the ability to assign a keyboard shortcut to them.

mac keyboard settings shortcuts

Let’s say we want to assign one of the F keys to Show Notification Center.

  • Tick the box next to the feature to activate it.
  • Click the keyboard shortcut area to the right.
  • Tap the F key you want to use. If it is available, it will auto-fill. If the F key is being used by another app, it will throw up an error message and tell you to choose another one.
  • Click Done to save your F key choice.
remap f key mac

Now try it out. F1 without the function key will open the Notification Center. F1 with the function key will lower the screen brightness.


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