When we think of keyboards, the first thing that comes to mind is the keys of the keyboard, as they are the component that we directly contact to send inputs to the computer.
While we end up using some of the keys very frequently, some of the keys end up collecting dust as the occasion where their functionality becomes useful rarely comes up or does not even come up.
Considering that not all the keys are equally significant, if you tried to estimate the number of keys on your keyboard, you would probably come up with a number that is much less than the actual amount of keys.
So, how many keys are actually there on a computer keyboard?
While the number of keys can drastically vary between different layouts and form factors, a standard full-size keyboard in the United States (ANSI) has 104 keys in total.
As an example of layouts causing differences, a standard full-size keyboard in Europe has 105 keys as it uses the ISO layout.
Your keyboard has more keys than you expected, right?
Moving on, we will be taking a deeper look into the keys in your keyboard, the groups they belong to, and why we use certain groups of keys very infrequently.
How Many Keys Are There in a Computer Keyboard?
As the number of keys can show differences between layouts and form factors, we will be basing our research on a full-size standard keyboard with an ANSI layout, the default keyboard layout in the United States.
A full-size standard ANSI keyboard contains 104 keys in total, and each of these keys belongs to a category depending on their functionality.
While the categories can show slight differences depending on who you ask, the most common way of grouping the keys would be to split them into five different categories; alphanumeric keys, Numpad keys, function keys, navigation keys, and control keys.
Alphanumeric keys are the main category for all the keys that we use to input letters, symbols, and numbers.
While it’s possible to further categorize alphanumeric keys within themselves into letter keys, number keys, and symbol keys, we believe that a single category is enough as the functionality of all these keys is essentially the same, which is to input certain characters.
On a standard full-size ANSI keyboard, there are 48 alphanumeric keys in total, meaning that alphanumeric keys make up the majority of the keys on a keyboard.
If we are to be specific, the breakdown would be 27 letter keys (incl. Space), 10 number keys, and 11 symbol keys. While we can also use some number keys to input symbols with modifiers, the symbol keys in this distribution are the ones that only have symbols on them.
Among all the categories, alphanumeric keys (letter keys in particular) are the ones we most frequently use as they are required both for typing and executing key combinations.
Numpad keys are the keys of the Numpad, the part that is on the right side of a keyboard in almost all standard keyboards.
While you may only think of the number keys when you think of the Numpad, the forward-slash (/), asterisk (*), dash (-), plus (+), dot (.), Enter, and Num Lock keys are also part of Numpad keys.
On a standard full-size ANSI keyboard, there are 17 Numpad keys in total, making Numpad keys the joint second-largest key group on the keyboard.
While the Numpad keys are handy to have in some scenarios, such as data entry and accounting, they are entirely useless in others, such as gaming.
As Numpad keys see either frequent use or no use at all with no-in-between in most scenarios, those who don’t use Numpad keys often go for tenkeyless keyboards.
Control keys are keys that we use to perform actions, often combined with other control, function, or alphanumeric keys.
Ctrl, Alt, Shift, Esc, Enter, Backspace, Caps Lock, Tab, Windows Key, menu key, Fn (not on all keyboards), Print Screen, Scroll Lock, and Pause / Break key all belong to the control keys category.
As we have mentioned earlier, this categorization isn’t exactly set in stone, which is why in some cases, Insert and Delete keys are considered part of control keys.
On a standard full-size ANSI keyboard, there are 17 (18 with Fn, but it usually isn’t part of a standard keyboard) control keys in total, making control keys the second-largest key (together with Numpad keys) group on the keyboard.
Control keys are the second most-used key group, right behind alphanumeric keys. Considering that keys such as Backspace and Enter are required for typing alongside alphanumeric keys, there is no surprise that they are vital.
Function keys are the F-keys that are usually on the top row of the keyboard.
These keys have a wide variety of uses as they are part of global shortcuts (such as ALT+F4), have varying functionalities depending on the application you’re using, and act as media keys when combined with certain modifiers.
On a standard full-size ANSI keyboard, there are 12 function keys in total, making Numpad keys the fourth-largest key group on the keyboard.
While function keys don’t get as much use as letter keys and control keys, they are still a vital part of a keyboard with the functionality they offer.
Even on layouts that don’t have function keys (such as 60%), you can often invoke their functionality by pressing a modifier key and the corresponding number key.
Navigation keys consist of the arrows, and the Home, End, Insert, Delete, PageUp, and PageUp keys.
The primary function of these keys is to navigate documents and webpages as they allow you to scroll through them in various ways, depending on what you need.
On a standard full-size ANSI keyboard, there are ten navigation keys in total, making navigation keys the fifth-largest key group on the keyboard.
While navigation keys can come in handy if you are used to using them, they don’t get a lot of use in the modern world due to the mouse being a more convenient way of navigating documents and webpages in most cases.
Effects of Keyboard Form Factor on Number of Keys
While full-size keyboards were the only option back then, nowadays, it’s possible to find many keyboard form factors which contain different numbers of keys.
Once again, the numbers we will be talking about are for ANSI keyboards, but you can quickly switch the number to ISO by adding one key to the total number of keys.
Tenkeyless (TKL / 80%) Keyboards
Tenkeyless is the second most popular form factor, only behind full-size, and is the only form factor alongside full-size that you will commonly encounter on keyboards of popular brands.
While tenkeyless gets its name from ten number keys on the Numpad, tenkeyless keyboards do not contain a Numpad at all, meaning that they have 17 keys less than a full-sized 104-key keyboard.
By subtracting this number from the total keys of a full-size keyboard, we can find that an ANSI tenkeyless keyboard has 87 keys in total.
The primary reason behind tenkeyless keyboards being so popular is the gaming industry, as gaming is an area where Numpad keys are entirely useless.
With how big the gaming industry is, it didn’t take long for manufacturers to rapidly produce tenkeyless keyboards that cater to gamers, which is why we can easily find them on the market now.
You won’t stumble upon 75% form factor keyboards in the market very often as most of the popular brands do not produce keyboards with this form factor.
Despite 75% keyboards being smaller than tenkeyless keyboards, both 75% and tenkeyless keyboards contain the same amount (84) of keys, with the space difference coming from eliminating the gaps between the keys.
While 75% keyboards are quite cramped as there aren’t any gaps between sets of keys (such as the gap between the alphanumeric keys and the arrow keys), they are well-liked by enthusiasts as they look more aesthetically pleasing and are very compact.
65% keyboards take compactness to the next level, to the point where some may think they are too uncomfortable to use with the number of keys they are lacking.
While the number of keys on a 65% keyboard can show variety, they usually have between 65 to 68 keys in total, with function keys and some control and navigation keys such as Print Screen, Scroll Lock, Pause / Break, Home, Insert, and End removed from the keyboard compared to the 70% form factor.
Just as 70% keyboards, 65% keyboards are also quite cramped, but if you enjoy using a 70% keyboard, you will most likely enjoy using a 65% as well, considering that the function keys are still available through modifiers in most cases.
With 40% of the keyboard gone, 60% keyboards are almost half the size of full-size keyboards, with even more keys removed than a 65% keyboard.
Compared to a 65% keyboard, a 60% keyboard lacks the navigation keys and the lesser-used control keys that may have remained in a 65% layout, such as Insert and Delete.
These changes bring the total key number to 61, with only alphanumeric keys and vital control keys remaining on the keyboard.
If you are a frequent user of the arrow keys, you certainly won’t enjoy a 60% keyboard as it will feel completely foreign and uncomfortable, but if compactness is the most important thing for you, a 60% keyboard will do great.
The final form factor in our list is 40% keyboards, which is as compact as a keyboard can get without sacrificing core functionality.
A 40% keyboard contains 45 to 50 keys, with the most notable change being the complete removal of the number row.
With so many keys gone, some commonly used inputs may require using two modifiers, which can become incredibly inconvenient.
We can only recommend 40% keyboards for those who absolutely need the compactness, as the effort to type on a 40% keyboard is much more even compared to 60%.
Effects of Physical Keyboard Layout on Number of Keys
While minimal, the physical layout of the keyboard also has an impact on the number of keys.
Let’s look at the three most commonly used layouts, ANSI, ISO, and JIS.
The ANSI (American National Standards Institute) keyboard layout is the standard for all the keyboards in the US, which has 104 keys in total, as we have mentioned previously.
The ISO (International Organization for Standardization) keyboard layout is the standard European countries use, which adds an extra key compared to the ANSI layout, bringing the key total to 105.
The extra key in the ISO layout is usually the “<” or the “|” key, which you will find between the Left Shift key and the “Z” key in a standard full-sized keyboard.
The JIS (Japanese Industrial Standard) keyboard layout is the standard for Japanese keyboards, and it adds five more keys to the ANSI layout, which makes for a 109-key keyboard.
These keys are added to the keyboard as a result of the Japanese language requiring more characters.
To make room for these extra keys, the Backspace, the Right Shift, and the Spacebar keys are often narrower in width compared to ISO and ANSI keyboards.
While a full-size standard ANSI keyboard has 104 keys, differences in form factor and layout can highly impact this figure.
As we don’t really use a significant number of these 104 keys frequently, going for smaller form factors that remove these keys usually makes for a better keyboard experience, both in terms of convenience and efficiency, especially if you work in a tight area or have to carry your keyboard often.
Considering the removed keys are still available through modifiers, none of the functionality is actually lost anyway, and the sole difference is that the lesser-used keys take more effort to press.