An illustration of a right mouse button being clicked.

You might have seen “right-click” mentioned while reading how-to instructions. But what does it mean? In some cases, it’s more than just clicking your right mouse button. We’ll show you how to right-click on several different pointer devices and platforms.

What Does Right-Click Mean?

If you see instructions asking you to “right-click,” it means to press the button on the right side of your mouse. Usually, this opens a context menu related to the item that you clicked on.

An early right-click context menu, seen in Smalltalk-76 on a Xerox Alto. Xerox

Right-clicking, as a physical action, originated with the first multi-button mice created in the 1960s. But the idea of clicking the right button to open a context menu originated in the Smalltalk environment on the Xerox Alto in the mid-1970s, and then later made its way to the Windows operating system with Windows 95. Right-clicking came natively to macOS with Mac OS X Beta in the year 2000, although OS 8 and 9 included a context menu accessible by holding down Control on the keyboard while clicking.

RELATED: Windows 95 Turns 25: When Windows Went Mainstream

Why Is Right-Click Different Than Left-Click?

Having two mouse buttons that do different things allows you to perform more tasks using your mouse, which can save you clicks and keyboard presses. Generally, most operating systems reserve the left mouse button as the “primary click” for selecting items on the screen or for opening apps or documents, and they reserve the right button as a “secondary click” used for canceling selections or for opening a context menu. A context menu is a list of options that changes depending on where you click or which application you’re using.

A right-click context menu in Windows 10.

On Windows 10, Mac, iPad, and more, you can swap the function of the two buttons, which is sometimes ideal for left-handed people who might want to use the index finger on their left hand to click the “primary” button on their mouse.

RELATED: How to Swap Left and Right Mouse Buttons on Windows 10

How to Right-Click with a Mouse

An illustration of the right button on a mouse.

Right-clicking with a mouse is easy. With the mouse oriented as you’d usually hold it, press the rightmost button (or clickable area) on the surface of the mouse.

On a Mac, if you’re using a one-button mouse, you can perform the equivalent of a right-click by holding down the Control key on your keyboard and clicking your mouse button. Or, if you’re using an Apple Magic mouse (where the entire surface is clickable), you can perform a right-click by placing two fingers on the surface of the mouse as you push down.

RELATED: How to Right-Click on Any Mac Using a Trackpad, Mouse, or Keyboard

How to Right-Click with a Trackball

Kensington Trackball Mouse

Trackballs vary greatly in layout in design, but usually, they include a rightmost button either on the surface or on the side of the trackball that functions like the right button on a mouse. To right-click, just click the rightmost button. If you have any trouble, consult your trackball’s documentation to see how to perform a secondary click.

How to Right-Click with a Touchpad

A hand right-clicking on a Mac touchpad.

If you’re using a touchpad on a Mac, Chromebook, or Windows PC, you can usually perform a right-click (secondary click) by tapping or pushing down on the touchpad with two fingers at the same time.

Or, if your laptop has two physical buttons below the trackpad, press the rightmost button to perform a right-click.

How to Right-Click on a Touch Screen

Here’s where things get interesting. If you’re using a touch-screen Windows PC, you can perform a right-click by pressing and holding your finger on the screen until a context menu appears. This trick dates back at least to Windows CE in 1996.

On the iPhone and iPad, you can perform an action similar to right-clicking by doing a long-press on the screen: Just hold your finger in one place until a menu pops up. Apple often uses this gesture to hide pop-up context menus.

RELATED: What Was Windows CE, and Why Did People Use It?

How to Right-Click Using a Pen or Stylus

The side button on a Microsoft Surface Pen.

Many third-party styluses designed for use with Windows and Macs (but not the Apple Pencil) include a button on the side of the stylus itself that can function as a right-click when pressed.

For the Microsoft Surface Pen, you hold down a side button while tapping on an item to open a context menu. Usually, these buttons can be reassigned via software to perform other functions.

Happy right-clicking!

RELATED: How to Configure Your Pen and Its Buttons on Windows 10

Profile Photo for Benj Edwards Benj Edwards
Benj Edwards is a former Associate Editor for How-To Geek. Now, he is an AI and Machine Learning Reporter for Ars Technica. For over 15 years, he has written about technology and tech history for sites such as The Atlantic, Fast Company, PCMag, PCWorld, Macworld, Ars Technica, and Wired. In 2005, he created Vintage Computing and Gaming, a blog devoted to tech history. He also created The Culture of Tech podcast and regularly contributes to the Retronauts retrogaming podcast.
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