About Function Keys for a PC Keyboard

By Juanita Marie

Function keys, commonly referred to as "F1" through "F12" keys, provide useful shortcuts for common computer commands. The function keys are located at the top of the computer/laptop keyboard and were most commonly used in the disk operating system era. Although all functions are not useful, most are and can come in handy in everyday computing.


In 1981, IBM released it's first commercial personal computer with an accompanying 83-key keyboard that included several options unavailable on typewriters. This included the 83-key keyboard and 10 function keys. With no mouse available, users only had the option to use function keys in order to execute certain commands. These function keys allowed users to open menus and edit options. In 1984, Apple Macintosh changed the need for function keys when it introduced the mouse with a simple point and click command.

Function Key Actions

Function key performs many commands, helping to quickly perform certain task. For example, pressing the "F1" key will bring up the help menu for the program you have open. Function keys can also be used to perform such other commands as rename icons and files, and close programs. The function key can also be used in conjunction with other command keys such as the "Ctrl," "Alt," "Shift," and "Windows" key. For instance, pressing "Shift+F7" will run a thesaurus check on any highlighted word.

Fn Key Mystery

The "Fn" key, more commonly found on laptops, is another function key. A modifier, much like the "Shift" or "Ctrl" key, the "Fn" key can only be used in conjunction with another key. For example, if you hold down the "Ctrl" key and press the letter "O," a dialogue box will appear allowing you to open a file. The "Fn" key works the same way. It's typically used in conjunction with the "F1" through "F12" keys.