What does the fn key on a Mac do?

fn key on a Mac
Having fn? Find out what that mysterious key does

If you look in the bottom-left corner of your Mac keyboard, you’ll see a button marked ‘fn’ with a globe symbol on it. You’ve probably never pressed it. Want to find out what the fn key on a Mac does? Let’s find out.

The fn key’s function

That heading is a bit of a clue, because ‘fn’ actually stands for ‘function’.

The top row of keys on a standard keyboard used to be the function keys: F1, F2 etc. However, on modern Macs, the primary role of the function keys is shortcuts for things such as turning up screen brightness, volume controls and so on.

However, you’ll still find the odd bit of software that wants you to press, say, F5 to access a certain function. If you find yourself in that position, you can press fn and the key marked F5 simultaneously to register an ‘F5’ button press.

Press Globe key for emoji

There’s another feature of that fn/globe key that many users overlook. That’s where you’ll find the emoji hiding!

If you’re composing a tweet, an email or even a blog post, you can press the globe/fn key to access the emoji menu.

From here, you can search for the emoji that you want to use, which is much easier than wading through hundreds of different symbols to find the lightbulb 💡 for example.

Can I change what the fn/globe key does?

If you never use emoji, macOS gives you limited options to change what that key does.

In the top-left corner of the screen, click the Apple logo and then System Preferences, then select Keyboard. On that screen, you should see the option to reassign the globe key (it may be called ‘fn’ on older Macs).

The options here are to change input source (basically moving between different keyboard languages, which isn’t that useful), start dictation (if your Mac has a built-in mic) or simply have the key do nothing, to stop the emoji menu appearing with accidental key presses.

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About the author

Barry Collins

Barry has scribbled about tech for almost 20 years for The Sunday Times, PC Pro, WebUser, Which? and many others. He was once Deputy Editor of Mail Online and remains in therapy to this day. Email Barry at

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