Mac OS X: How to change the behavior of function keys

Learn how to change the behavior of the function keys on your Mac.


If your Mac's keyboard has icons printed on some of the keys on the top row of the keyboard, those keys can be used to perform the special features shown in each icon, or they can be used as standard function keys (F1 - F12). The action performed by standard function keys will vary depending on the application you are currently using, or depending on the keyboard shortcuts listed in the Keyboard & Mouse pane of System Preferences.

By default, pressing one of these keys will perform the special feature indicated by the icon printed on the key. For example, pressing the keys with speaker icons will adjust the volume or mute the system volume.  If you would like to use one of these keys as a standard function key on a portable Mac, you can hold the Fn key while pressing the function key. For example, if you press Fn-F10 (with a speaker icon), it will perform the function assigned to the F10 key instead of toggling mute on or off.

If you prefer the top row of keys to behave as standard function keys (instead of performing the special feature indicated by the icon), without needing to hold down the Fn key:

  1. Choose System Preferences from the Apple menu.
  2. From the View menu choose Keyboard (or Keyboard & Mouse in Mac OS X v10.5.8 and earlier).
  3. Click Keyboard, if necessary.
  4. Enable "Use all F1, F2, etc. keys as standard function keys."

With this option enabled, the top row of keys will act as standard function keys (F1 - F12) and not perform special functions such as volume control. To use the features shown on the icon printed on one of these keys while this option is enabled, press Fn.  For example, if the above option is enabled, press Fn-F10 to toggle mute on or off.

Last Modified: Jun 6, 2012
  • Last Modified: Jun 6, 2012
  • Article: HT3399
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