Mac keyboards are fairly renowned for their simple but elegant functionality. Not only are they highly customizable, but OS X contains an option that let you use the function (fn) key to access the actual function keys (F1, F2, etc.).

We’ve made it clear that it is easy to make the most of Mac keyboards. You can customize keyboard and application shortcuts to bend the system to your will. You can use it to quickly jump from virtual desktop to virtual desktop, and if you go between OS X and Windows, you can remap your OS X keys so they work more like Windows, and vice-versa, so as to avoid confusion and incorrect key presses.

If you’re using a Mac laptop, then the keyboard will already be adorned with special feature keys. Along the top row, there are special keys allowing you to increase/decrease screens brightness and keyboard backlight, volume controls, media keys, and more.

Your keyboard may vary but you get the idea. All these special functions can be converted to normal functions in the keyboard settings.

You can, however, press the “fn” key and use that top row as regular function keys. Normally, F1, F2, and so on, don’t correspond to anything in OS X, so the top row can only be used as function keys if you hold down “fn”. So, in order to use F1, F2, etc. without the “fn” key, you have to check a box in the keyboard settings. When you do this, you will then have to use “fn” to access the special functions. In other words, special features and functions roles are reversed.

In the following screenshot, we see that the option “Use all F1, F2, etc. keys as standard function keys” is unchecked by default.

We simply need to check this box then to turn off special features and turn F1, F2, etc. into the default keys.

If you want to quickly switch back and forth, you can show the keyboard, emoji, and symbols viewer in the menu bar, so then you can just click on the menu bar icon to open the keyboard settings.

Just click this in the menu bar to quickly open the Keyboard preferences. This will allow you to easily switch between function key functionality.

With this option checked, you will have to hold “fn” to control screen brightness, volume, etc., but if you use an application that relies heavily on function keys, then this is likely to be a far more efficient arrangement. This is true for example, in Microsoft Office applications where F5 opens “Find and Replace” and F6 starts a spelling and grammar check.

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Matt Klein has nearly two decades of technical writing experience. He's covered Windows, Android, macOS, Microsoft Office, and everything in between. He's even written a book, The How-To Geek Guide to Windows 8.
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