What Is the Meaning of Function Keys on a Computer Keyboard?

By William Norman

While the point-and-click ease of a mouse simplifies some computer operations, function keys and other keyboard shortcuts can perform many tasks more quickly and efficiently.


Standard computer keyboards include 12 function keys labeled F1 through F12, according to the Computer Hope website.


Early keyboards, such as those made by IBM before 1987, had all the function keys on one side of the keyboard, according to the ESL Teachers Board website. The IBM Enhanced 101 Key Keyboard in 1987 set the modern layout standard for keyboards.

Common Single-key Commands

Computer Hope lists a variety of function key commands. The F1 key, for instance, opens Help, F5 refreshes the current screen and F11 selects full-screen browsing.

Common Commands

Key combinations can augment function keys’ abilities. In Microsoft Word, for example, the F12 key issues the Save As command, while Shift+F12 equals Save and Ctrl+Shift+F12 makes a document print, according to Computer Hope.


PC’sPlace.com notes that keyboard “shortcuts” employing function keys can save time compared to navigating drop-down menus with a mouse, making them useful for meeting tight deadlines on projects.