How to right-click on a Mac

Tyler Lacoma
Digital Trends

Some things you can always count on. Spring will follow winter, day will turn to night, and Mac users will wonder how in the heck they’re supposed to right click on their computers. Does that sound like a familiar problem? We’ve got you covered. Here’s how to right click on your own terms, no matter what Apple device you’re using.

Read: What’s the best MacBook for your money?

On the Apple mouse


The Apple mouse isn’t clearly divided into separate click zones and sometimes doesn’t support right clicking out of the box, which can be very frustrating. If you’re a little bewildered by the Apple mouse rules, don’t worry! There are customization options to set the mouse how you prefer it. Let’s look at your options.

  • Press the Ctrl key, and then click your mouse. This is usually the default method of right-clicking with an Apple mouse. The Control key, when held down, switches the mouse to right-click mode. We know that this sounds a little weird, but some people actually prefer this approach. Try using this option for a little while and see what you think. If you can get used to it, great! If you’re still making a yucky face, let’s talk about option two.
  • Mouse Secondary ClickYou can customize your mouse to respond a certain way to match your past habits. Start by heading over to System Preferences in the menu bar, and then select Mouse. For the average Apple mouse, this should open up a window with two tabs. Make sure you are in the Point & Click tab, and look for an option that says Secondary Click. This option should be check-marked. There is a dropdown immediately below this selection that allows you to set the secondary click to the right or left side of the mouse. You probably want to choose the right side—Apple has little videos that show you what the current effects are if this gets confusing. Then exit out and experiment with your mouse! Unfortunately, there’s no option to directly control the sensitivity of these right/left clicks. We suggest you experiment a little and see if the Apple mouse is working for you or if you need to consider a replacement. After all, you don’t have to use any particular mouse.

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 On the MacBook trackpad


Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

There’s a separate problem on the MacBook, which uses a small trackpad for mouse pointer control. This multi-touch trackpad is sensitive, but it doesn’t include any obvious tells or buttons for right/left clicking, which again confuses many new users (and sometimes the rules changes for newer MacBooks, which is even more confusing). Fortunately, there are easy ways to right click no matter your preferences.

  • Macbook Trackpad TapThe first option is just the same as the mouse. Press the Ctrl key, and tap the trackpad. Again, Control switches the trackpad to right click mode—in fact, this may work even better on trackpads, because holding down a nearby laptop key is quick and easy. That being said, here’s option two.
  • Head over to our friend System Preferences, which should be in your menu bar. This time, look for Trackpad, which should be right by the Mouse option. Select Trackpad, and may sure that you are in the Point & Click tab. This should give you several options for controlling trackpad clicks and gestures. Look for Secondary Click and make sure that it is selected. Then choose the dropdown menu and take a look at your options. You should see an option for tapping on the trackpad with two fingers, or tapping on the right/left lower sides to start a right click. We’re fans of the two-finger approach, which is easy to learn, and avoids those problematic times when you accidentally brush against the bottom of the trackpad and start a random right-click. However, feel free to experiment with all options to see which one you like the most.
Trackpad Force Touch
Trackpad Force Touch

Note: Newer Macs from 2015 or afterward use the Force Touch trackpad. This allows you to open new options based on how hard you press on the trackpad. That includes a Force Click, which happens when you press down firmly with one finger, and this may seem like a natural option for right-clicking.

However, Apple prefers to reserve the Force Click for other features, like previews and editing options. What Force Click does varies by app. It can never fully take the place of a right-click function, but we suggest you look at its features to see if you can use it to supplement other activities and make your work easier.

More: Apple slashes prices on storage options for older Macs, neglects hardware updates

On the all-purpose Magic trackpad

Two Finger Touch
Two Finger Touch

The Magic trackpad is, essentially, a large version of the MacBook trackpad. It can do a few more tricks, but the basic controls are identical. Which means you can once again head over to System Preferences, Trackpad, and Secondary Click to choose just how you want to right click. Since the Magic trackpad is a little more maneuverable, the lower right/left corner approach may work better here, so once again we suggest experimenting to see which you like best.