Wednesday, March 22, 2017 at 7:47AM
Patricia P. Jennings

“No. I don’t know what they do, nor do I care. If I thought I was going to live another fifty years I might take the time to explore their arcane secrets.”

“Never. They’re a mystery to me.”

“No, I’m askeered to.”

“I haven’t a clue why they’re there. Can you enlighten me?”

“To be honest I’ve never even noticed they are there!”

 By now you are doubtless wondering, “What in the world was the question?”

The question was: “Do you know what the F keys on your computer are for and do you use them?”

I’ve been a computer owner since 1995. If I’ve acquired a new one every five years, which is about average, a conservative estimate says that I’ve had five personal keyboards under my fingertips. But I have never, not even once, used any of the F keys above the numbers row. I’ve paid for them but I have never had any idea what they do nor have I taken the time to find out.

You wouldn’t think it would take me this long to start wondering about them, but here I am, twenty-two years into computer ownership Googling “What is the purpose of those F keys?”

I conducted an email survey among some of my correspondents and the replies above demonstrate that, as I suspected, I have plenty of company.

I have always assumed that the F keys – function keys – perform shortcuts, and that is indeed what they do. But I feel as if I know all the shortcuts I need and that getting tangled up with the F keys at this point would only slow me down. Point and click is the shortest cut I need. Even if I were to discover that some of these shortcuts are nifty, I wouldn’t be able to remember most of them, some of which require using two hands to press three keys at once, a degree of dexterity I’d rather reserve for a Steinway.

And speaking of musical keyboards, deciding which F keys to use in combination with other keys reminds me of playing a pipe organ on which one must decide which stops, which pistons, and which combinations to use. Pistons, by the way, are those little buttons under the keyboards that allow the player to set combinations of stops so that he can control all the keyboards and the pedals with the flick of a single button. There are stops that I would never use, combinations that wouldn’t occur to me that have been set by some previous organist, which I can change to suit myself.

And that’s true with the F keys. The only friend who answered my survey who knows much about F keys – he’s been a programmer – wrote, “I’ve often made use of the F keys to the extent of customizing them to my own needs. This is called creating a ‘macro’ and can be useful.” I’m sure it can, but I can’t imagine twisting my brain around a macro any time soon.

Of the many F key functions that I’ve learned during my little study, there are only three that I plan to add to my repertoire, F2, F3 and F7.

Control + F2 – Shows the Print Preview and is absolutely easier than doing it with the mouse. Doing it twice opens and closes the Print Preview.

Shift + F3 – Too often I look at the screen to find that I have inadvertently pressed the Shift key resulting in AN ENTIRE PARAGRAPH OF CAPITAL LETTERS! But by highlighting those caps and pressing Shift + F3 – poof! – the caps are changed to lower case. Press those keys again, the first letter of each word becomes capitalized; press them again you get all lower case. What a boon!

Shift + F7 – Third, and quite handy, this one gets you quickly to the Thesaurus. Highlight a word, say pusillanimous, press Shift + F7 and the Thesaurus opens, bingo! There you will find every synonym for pusillanimous from “timid” and “nervous” to “faint-hearted” and “lily-livered.”

Except for Control+Alt+Delete, which opens the Task Manager and is useful when all else fails, when the computer is acting up and you need to close programs that might be gumming up the works, I doubt if I will otherwise be using three keys at a time when I could just as easily point and click.

One other shortcut that you might find useful is Control + z that undoes your last move. That easy one is a timesaver if you’ve hit something by accident or done something stupid.

And now, if you haven’t yet nodded into your soup, there is a list below of F key functions that you might want to fiddle around with. I’ve included only those for PCs. I have no idea if they perform the same functions on a Mac or if the Mac even has F keys.

Also, I’ve deleted a few that sound a little too abstruse to consider even investigating such as the following, which describes what F12 will do: “Accesses the list of bootable devices on computer at startup, allowing you to select a different device to boot from (hard drive, CD or DVD drive, floppy drive, USB drive, and network.”) Hunh?


                                FUNCTIONS OF THE F- KEYS


• Almost always used as the help key, almost every program opens a help screen when this key is pressed.

• Windows Key + F1 would open the Microsoft Windows help and support center.

• Open the Task Pane.


• In Windows renames a highlighted icon, file, or folder in all versions of Windows.

• Alt + Ctrl + F2 opens document window in Microsoft Word.

• Ctrl + F2 displays the print preview window in Microsoft Word.

• Quickly rename a selected file or folder.


• Often opens a search feature for many programs including Microsoft Windows when at the Windows     Desktop.

• Shift + F3 will change the text in Microsoft Word from upper to lower case or a capital letter at the   beginning of every word.

• Windows Key + F3 opens the Advanced find window in Microsoft Outlook.


• Open find window in Windows 95 to XP.

• Open the address bar in Windows Explorer and Internet Explorer.

• Repeat the last action performed (Word 2000+).

• Alt + F4 closes the program window currently active in Microsoft Windows.

• Ctrl + F4 closes the open window within the current active window in Microsoft Windows.


• In all modern Internet browsers, pressing F5 will refresh or reload the page or document window.

• Ctrl + F5 forces a complete refresh of the web page, clearing the cache and downloading all contents of the page again

• Refresh the list of contents in a folder.

• Open the find, replace, and go to window in Microsoft Word.


• Move the cursor to the address bar in Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, and most other Internet browsers.

• Ctrl + Shift + F6 opens to another open Microsoft Word document.


• Commonly used to spell check and grammar check a document in Microsoft programs such as Microsoft Word, Outlook, etc.

• Shift + F7 runs a Thesaurus check on the word highlighted.


• Function key used to enter the Windows startup menu, commonly used to access Windows Safe Mode.


• Refresh document in Microsoft Word.

• Send and receive e-mail in Microsoft Outlook.


• In Microsoft Windows activates the menu bar of an open application.

• Shift + F10 is the same as right-clicking on a highlighted icon, file, or Internet link.


Enter and exit fullscreen mode in all modern Internet browsers.


Open the Save as window in Microsoft Word.

Ctrl + F12 opens a document In Word.

Shift + F12 saves the Microsoft Word document (like Ctrl + S).

Ctrl + Shift + F12 prints a document in Microsoft Word.

Access the list of bootable devices on a computer at startup, allowing you to select a different device to boot from (hard drive, CD or DVD drive, floppy drive, USB drive, and network).


Source: Computer Hope

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