Simple question, as stated in the title.

What is the reasoning behind the arrows on the numpad of my keyboard?

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3 Answers 3


They shift the cursor. One of the many residual features of a keyboard which was originally designed for the dumb terminals of a mainframe computer.

The 'number pad' on the right hand end of the keyboard is designed for heavy duty numerical inputting.

An early IBM Model M manufactured in 1986

The 'number lock' button puts it in and out of number mode and as you can see in the original design 'number lock' is part of the keypad, so that when one handed 'data inputting' the user can flick between number and arrows modes on the keypad without moving their hand.

  • What do you mean by "they shift the cursor?" Do these arrows do anything different from the actual arrows right next to it?
    – MJB
    Sep 20, 2016 at 8:21
  • Nope. The key pad duplicates the arrow key and number key functions from the main keypad. Its all fairly redundant. In the dim and distant past there probably were 'data entry' jobs where skilled operators could input data in quicker using the keypad with one hand than two handed operation of the rest of the keyboard.
    – PhillipW
    Sep 20, 2016 at 9:40
  • How did we ever use computers before universal voice input and brain computer interfaces? Of course, no one can read the screen now anyway, so a keyboard would be pretty pointless.
    – user67695
    Sep 20, 2016 at 13:53
  • 1
    We didn't. They used us.
    – Confused
    Sep 20, 2016 at 13:53

I actually found out that back in 1981, keyboards didn't have separate arrow keys, nor was there a mouse to use to move the cursor. So you needed the arrows on the number-pad to move the cursor around.

See this IBM keyboard from 1981 for example.

  • Interesting. So it looks like keyboard design wasn't 'standardised' 5 years before the Model M which I linked to. (and which modern keyboards still follow)
    – PhillipW
    Sep 20, 2016 at 14:55
  • @PhillipW Yeah, funny enough I came to this conclusion after using your link to further do research, so I owe you that one!
    – MJB
    Sep 20, 2016 at 15:22

A long time ago it was thought that humans could understand modal operation of a keyboard.

Steve Jobs ideas of one button, and click to rule them all, soon created a trend amongst many designers in which it was thought modality was bad.

One knob, one button, per function, became the norm.

And making hardware became cheaper, and PC interface standards got loosened, too.

  • Humans can understand modes, but they impose a learning curve beyond just "do what is obvious". Have you seen a lever door handle (like on French doors in English houses) where pulling the handle UP locks the door? Very confusing if you have never encountered it before. You pull and pull and the door just won't open! Then, in exasperation, you push, and it flies open! WTH? If you are going to stand there and teach people the modes, great. Otherwise, not so much. (But I did upvote because you gave a relevant explanation.)
    – user67695
    Sep 20, 2016 at 13:51

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