Function keys not working on Mac

The row of keys along the top of your Mac’s keyboard has a dual function. By default, they perform tasks like changing the brightness and volume as well as controlling playback in Apple Music. But they are also Function keys — special keys, the function of which varies according to the app you are using. If you have a MacBook Pro with a Touch Bar, these keys appear in the Touch Bar. Most of the time, they work just fine, but occasionally, things go wrong and they stop working. In this article, we’ll show you what to do when that happens.

What are function keys?

Function keys have existed for almost as long as we have used keyboards to control computers. Typically, they are configured on an app-by-app basis to execute or modify commands with that application. On Mac, physical function keys double up as keyboard shortcuts for things like controlling brightness, invoking Mission Control or Spotlight, starting dictation, or controlling volume.

So, how to use function keys on Mac? Just press a modifier labeled ‘Fn,’ also known as the Globe key on some Mac keyboards. That changes the keys to F1, F2, etc., instead of their default use.


You can set the default for function key behavior to function keys rather than shortcuts for brightness, volume, etc. To do it, go to System Settings > Keyboard > Shortcuts > Function Keys and turn on the option named ‘Use F1, F2, etc. as standard function keys.’ When you want to use the special features for those keys, you will now have to use the Fn modifier key.

Why are Mac function keys not working

There are a number of reasons why any function key is not working on MacBook Pro or any other Mac model. It’s possible that it’s a hardware problem, and there is a fault with the key mechanism itself. However, it’s much more likely that it’s a software problem. That could be a result of configurations becoming messed up somewhere, or it could be a deeper issue in macOS. We’ll focus on fixing software problems, as these are far more likely to be the cause and much easier to sort out.

How to fix it when function keys are not working

1. Check for an update to macOS

Why is this the first thing you should do? Because keeping your Mac up to date is good practice, as the problem with the function keys may be caused by a bug that has been fixed in the latest macOS version.

  1. Go to System System Settings > General > Software Update.
  2. Wait for it to check for updates. If there is one available, click Update Now to begin installing it.
System Preferences - Software Update

2. Restart your Mac

If you’re already running the latest version of macOS, restart your Mac. Restarting clears out temporary files and runs checks. Sometimes, that’s all you need to do to fix problems.

3. Check Keyboard settings

In System Settings, choose Keyboard. If you were expecting the function keys to work as function keys without a modifier, make sure that ‘Use F1, F2, etc. as standard function keys’ is turned on as described in the tip above. If you were expecting the keys to operate system functions like volume and brightness, make sure it’s not turned on.

4. Check modifier key

By default, function keys operate system functions and playback controls in Apple Music. To use them as function keys, you need to press the ‘Fn’ or Globe key. However, if the modifier configuration has been changed, the Mac keys not working problem will occur.

  1. In System Settings > Keyboard > Keyboard Shortcuts, click Modifier Keys.
  2. Make sure the keyboard you are using is selected next to ‘Select Keyboard.’
  3. Look at the last option, which should be the Function key or Globe key. It should be set to ‘fn Function.’ If it’s not, click the menu and choose it.
  4. Quit System Settings.

Whenever you encounter a problem like the function keys not working, and the normal steps to resolve it don’t help, it’s a good idea to repair disk permissions and run regular maintenance scripts. The easiest way to do that is to use an application designed for the job. We recommend CleanMyMac X. It has the Maintenance module that does just that in addition to thinning out Time Machine snapshots, reindexing Spotlight, and more. You can download it for free here.

Repair disk permissions in Maintenance module CMMX

5. Check your Bluetooth connection

If the keyboard on which the function keys are not working is a Bluetooth keyboard, try disconnecting and reconnecting it:

  1. Go to System Settings > Bluetooth.
  2. Hover over your keyboard and click Forget This Device.
  3. Put the keyboard in pairing mode.
  4. When it reappears in the Bluetooth window, click Connect.
System Preferences - Bluetooth

Whether you use the function keys on your Mac as function keys or to carry out tasks like controlling playback in Apple Music or launching Spotlight, they are very useful. That’s why it’s very frustrating when they don’t work. If that has happened to you, follow the steps above one by one, and your function keys should be working again in no time.

Frequently asked questions

What are function keys?

Function keys are the top row of keys on a keyboard, denoted by ‘F1’, ‘F2,’ etc. They are used to perform different actions depending on the application.

What are the other symbols on function keys on the Mac?

These are the default actions the keys perform when you don’t press ‘Fn’ to enable the function keys. They include changing volume and brightness or launching Mission Control.

Why do function keys not work sometimes?

There are a number of reasons why function keys might not work. Usually, it’s because the keys have been reconfigured either accidentally or due to a software glitch. Sometimes, the mechanism in the keys themselves is faulty.

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