Cortana for Beginners

Female robot

Cortana is the name of the interactive personal assistant built into Windows 10. You can give her instructions and talk with her by using your voice or by typing. This page introduces Cortana for beginners.

A Chat with Cortana

Here’s a short video (from 2016) to show you the kinds of things Cortana can do to help you. Unfortunately, now revisiting this Cortana for beginners page in 2020, the novelty for various personal assistants, like Cortana, has worn off. I still hope that Cortana will continue to evolve. When personal assistants can sound and interact more naturally, and recognize different people in groups, etc., there will be a lot of fun to be had. Until then, most progress has been a little predictable.

How to find Cortana (See also How to Use Cortana)

There are six main ways to find Cortana:

Using the keyboard:
Press the Windows key + S (for Search).
Press the Windows key + C (for Cortana) to open Cortana in listening mode. (Set this option in Cortana settings.)
Press the Start key and type Cortana, then press Enter (to get into Cortana settings).

Using a mouse or touch:
Click on the Cortana icon in the taskbar. Cortana taskbar icon
Click the Windows icon and search for Cortana in Apps.

Using your voice:
Say ‘Hey Cortana‘ via your microphone. (Set this option in Cortana settings.)

Cortana’s many talents

To get an idea of what Cortana can do to help you, press the Windows key + S on your keyboard to open Cortana. Then scroll down inside Cortana until you get to the Tips & tricks section. As you scroll down to this section, you will notice that Cortana displays, ‘Here are some things you can ask me to do.’ If you click the See more tips option, Cortana will list more tips & tricks.

Cortana Tips & tricks section and See more tips option

As you can see, there are many things that Cortana can d. Clicking on these listed items will show you an example of typical commands you might say for each one.
(I’ve extended the size of the Start Menu to have Cortana list more tips & tricks for this image example.)

Things Cortana can help you do

Setting up Cortana

You can quickly set up Cortana and help her to get to know you. In the Notebook section, you can go through the different categories and choose any options which relate to you.

Cortana - Notebook

Privacy Settings

Also, in the Cortana Settings tab, you can see the ‘Other privacy settings’ link.

Cortana Settings

This tab gives you the option to choose, adjust, or delete what Windows and Cortana learn about you.

Windows 10 Privacy settings

How to use Cortana in Windows 10:


To search with Cortana in Windows 10, you can simply type the keyboard shortcut Windows + S. Then you can type in the search field, or click on the microphone icon and say a command.

Windows + S – Search (including Cortana)
Windows key (Windows 10)plusSWindows key + S - Search (Cortana keyboard)

Cortana on desktop Windows + S

Manual Listening mode

Windows + C – Cortana (Listening mode)
Windows key (Windows 10)plusQWindows key + C - Cortana (Talk to her)

Cortana on desktop in listening mode: Press keyboard shortcut Windows + Shift + C

To activate Cortana in listening mode only (like I did in most of the video), you can use the keyboard shortcut Windows + C. Set this option in Cortana settings:

Cortana keyboard shortcut option

Then you can say a command or question while she is listening. (You will need a microphone.)

Hey Cortana

If you prefer to call Cortana without using the keyboard or mouse, go into the Cortana settings and choose ‘Let Cortana respond to “Hey Cortana.”‘. Then when you want to use Cortana, just say, “Hey, Cortana.” (You will need a microphone.)

Hey Cortana setting option

Cortana icon

Cortana taskbar icon Clicking on the Cortana icon in the taskbar will also open Cortana.

Latest from Microsoft (2020)

Microsoft has announced that in the next release of Windows 10 (spring 2020), we should see some changes to how Cortana works, as she evolves into a personal productivity assistant in Microsoft 365.

Help improve Cortana

Be sure to post feedback to Microsoft of the kinds of things you would like Cortana to be able to do, by using the Provide feedback tab.

Cortana - Provide feedback tab

This is the Cortana for beginners page. What do you think about Cortana and digital personal assistants in general? How would you like to see Cortana evolve? Let us know in the comments.

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