Understanding Mac Keyboard Symbols

Don’t let those cryptic symbols confuse you!

If you are someone who has recently bought a macOS device or is shifting from a windows device, you probably know how confusing the various symbols on your keyboard look. While keys like command, option, control, and function do have their names mentioned along with their symbols, the function keys don’t.

You might have noticed these topmost keys on your Mac keyboard that read from F1 to F12 and have some symbols on them. These keys are very useful and a proper understanding of these keyboard symbols can help you efficiently use them and save you a lot of time. Once you start using them, there’s no going back. Such is the amount of ease they provide.

It took me a good amount of time to figure out their function when I was new to macOS, as well. But we can assure you that it won’t take you as much time as we have the perfect guide that would help you understand the meaning of all Mac keyboard symbols in no time.

F1, Decrease Screen Brightness

The circular, sun-like symbol on the F1 key helps you decrease your screen brightness. This feature is especially useful when you are working in the dark and need to lower the screen brightness to make it comfortable for your eyes. This button saves you the trouble of navigating to the control center and adjusting the display slider to decrease screen brightness.

F2, Increase Screen Brightness

You would notice that the symbol on the F2 key is very similar to the F1 key except for the lines that surround the circle. As you might have noticed looking at the symbols, the F2 key helps in increasing the screen brightness. Mac devices are known to have really bright displays. So on days when you might be working under the sun and want to use your Mac’s bright screen to see clearly, don’t shy away from reaching for this key.

F3, Mission Control

The three rectangles on the F3 key take you to one of the most underrated features in macOS – mission control. Mission control is an expanded, bird’s eye view of all windows, apps, and desktops that are open at the moment. It comes in very handy when you have a lot on your plate and want to switch between apps without any kind of confusion.

F4, Spotlight

The F4 key has a very minimal magnifying glass as its symbol. A simple press of this button launches the Spotlight search feature. If you are someone who doesn’t use this feature, you should try it right away! This feature helps in saving a lot of time. It is a system-wide search feature for your macOS device that lets you search using a keyword and you can find all files and documents with it. You also get search suggestions in case there are no matching files on your system.

F5, Dictation and Siri

Are you tired of typing and wish you could just narrate it to someone while they type it for you? Well, it’s possible! Dictation is a feature very less people are aware of. A simple press of the F4 button which has a microphone symbol on it enables the dictation feature which lets you type by speaking.

Another feature of this button is launching Siri. If you long press the F5 button, you can launch Siri. It would greet you with its iconic “What can I help you with?” You can speak your command and watch Siri do what she does the best!

F6, Do Not Disturb Mode

The moon symbol on the F6 key denotes the ‘Do Not Disturb’ (DND) mode and triggers it when you press the button. The do not disturb mode helps you concentrate and focus on your work without any distractions from online alerts.

F7, Rewind and Play Previous

The F7 key with two triangles pointing backward helps you to rewind or play the previous track/video. If you want to rewind/ play the video or song from the beginning then a single press is enough. However, if you want to play the previous track/video, then you need to double press the F7 button.

Do note that if you press F7 at the start of a track/video, you can play the previous one with a single press.

F8, Play/Pause

The symbol on the F8 key makes it pretty clear that it helps you play or pause the video or song that you might be playing. The button comes in very handy when you have your music playing in the background and immediately need to pause it.

F9, Skip and Play Next

F9 is just like the F7 button with the reverse set of features. You can easily skip the current song forward or move on to the next song/video in your queue with a single click on the F9 button.

F10, Mute

You probably have already understood what this button does. The F10 button lets you mute your mac immediately. Once you press the button again, your mac device would go back to the same volume level as earlier.

F11, Volume Down

The speaker with just one wave in front of it automatically tells you that this button performs the volume down function. You can use the F11 button to reduce the volume of your macOS device to your desired level.

F12, Volume Up

Finding it difficult to hear? Use the F12 button to increase the volume of your macOS device to your desired level.

Fn, Function key

We learned about the meaning of those unique symbols on the function keys but what if you want to use the standard function key features and not the specialized functions denoted by the symbols? For that, we have the fn or the function key, also known as the globe key. You would notice a small globe symbol under the “fn” text.
To use the function keys for their standard functions, all you need to do is press the desired function key while holding down the “fn” key.

⌃, Control

The upward-facing arrow denotes the Control key on the Mac keyboard layout. The key has huge significance in various applications on macOS. A common feature of the control key that not many people know of is that you can access the right-click feature by pressing the control key while clicking your trackpad.

⌥, Option

The Option button is the macOS alternative to the “Alt” button you would find in a Windows PC’s keyboard layout. You can use the option button to enter the character associated with the alphabet keys. These characters are not mentioned in the keyboard layout but they do exist. You can have a look at the diagram below to have a better understanding.

⌘, Command/cmd

The Command key is probably the most used modifier key on the keyboard. The key helps in accessing various shortcuts that prove to be very useful and time-saving.


These were all the keys on your Mac keyboard that you need to put in an effort to understand. If you use them properly, you would notice your productivity grow exponentially.