A Beginner’s Guide to Mac Context Menus

Context menus are menus that appear when you Control+click on an object in the Finder or an app. You can also usually use a two-finger click to bring it up, depending on your settings. Context menus allow you to find many functions of software that aren't obvious or are impossible to know about any other way. Control+clicking to bring up context menus is something export Mac users use all the time, but beginners may not know about.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: A Beginner’s Guide to Mac Context Menus.

If you're new to Mac you may not know about Context Menus or you may know about them but not by that technical term. Windows users sometimes refer to this simply as right click and on the Mac people commonly refer to it as Control click. That's the way I usually talk about it. Because in order to do it on the Mac, the standard way, the way that always works, is you hold the Control key down on the keyboard and you press the trackpad. Now it's important to use the Control key, NOT the Command key.

So I'm going to Control click this file here in Finder. It brings up this menu. This is a Context Menu. A Context Menu is basically a menu of commands and functions and things you can do based on the context, in other words what it is you're clicking. So for a file here I can do things like Open, Open With, Move to Trash, Get info, Rename. Things that have to do with a file.

Now you can bring up a Context Menu for all sorts of different things. So, for instance, I can Control click on a folder and I get a slightly different menu here that has to do with folders. But it works in other applications as well.
For instance let's go to Mail. I can Control click on a Mail message here and I can have things like Send Again, Reply, Mark As Unread. Things that have to do with Mail messages. Let's look at some other apps. Photos. I can Control click on a photo in the Photos app and I get things like Share, Create something, Add to an album. All sorts of things that have to do with a photo. So again it depends on the context.

It works with just about any object in anything you're doing on your Mac. As a matter of fact it's very often the way that you get to a function that you may not know how to get to otherwise. A lot of times people say how do I do this and the answer is simply Control click on it to bring up a Context Menu.

For instance, in Safari here I can Control click on a link. Of course if I would just click on the link it would activate that link and I could go to that page. But if I say Control click on a link it gives me options like Open Link in New Tab, Download the page or the file, Copy Link. All sorts of things that you may think well, how do I do that. Because if I click on it I'm just going to go to that link. The Context Menu, Control clicking is how to get there.

Now you can access this in other ways besides Control clicking. If you go to System Preferences and then go to either Mouse or Trackpad depending upon which one you use. I'm going to use Trackpad. Trackpad under Point and Click is something called Secondary Click. Secondary Click is how you get to Context Menus. You can see here I've got three options. Click or tap with two fingers, Click on the bottom right corner, and click on the bottom left corner. So if you're used to the idea of a right click you can actually use the bottom right corner of your Trackpad to do this.

The default though is Use two fingers. So if I leave it at that I can actually, instead of using Control click, I can just use two fingers on my Trackpad and click here instead of one finger and it brings up the Context Menu.

So I encourage you to explore Context Menus. and explore using Control click on different things that you do. This is how you very often discover hidden functionality in apps or ways to do things that you didn't know existed. I get asked a lot, how did you know to do that. How did you even know it was even possible? A lot of it is because whenever I'm exploring an app or a new way of doing things I'm always Control clicking on things to see what comes up in that Context Menu to see what functions I can perform with that object.

Comments: 2 Responses to “A Beginner’s Guide to Mac Context Menus”

    Nicholas Manno
    1 year ago

    Gary, i was testing the Control key-right click vs right click. They do the same thing (at least for me). Using the Control key seems unnecessary for context. I tried this on the trackpad and the mouse with identical results.

    Am I missing something? Love your videos.

    1 year ago

    Nicholas: If you have a two-button mouse, then Control+LEFT click is the same as Right Click. Most people on Macs have a trackpad and can can do a two-finger click instead of a Right click. But that depends on their settings. Control+Click always works but if you can use Right click then do that if you like.

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