A contextual menu is a pop-up menu that appears when you right-click on a certain area of the screen. It is "contextual" because the menu options are relevant to what you click on. While not all programs support contextual menus, most modern operating systems and applications include them as part of the interface design.
Contextual menus provide a choice of options that depend on where the cursor is when you click the right mouse button. For example, if you right-click on your computer's desktop, the menu that appears will have desktop-specific commands. These may include options to change the desktop background, create a new folder, clean up the icons, or view the desktop properties. If you right-click within a desktop window, you might see options to create a new folder, change the view options, or view the folder properties.
Right-clicking within an application typically provides menu options that are specific to the current program. For example, if you right-click in a Web browser window, the menu that appears may include options such as "Back," "Reload," and "Print." Right-clicking a misspelled word in a word processing program often presents a list of similar correctly spelled words. If you right-click a picture in an image-editing program, you may see a choice of editing options. These are just a few examples of the many contextual menus included in different programs.
It may be helpful to think of a contextual menu of as a streamlined menu bar. This is because they typically contain many of the same options as the program's main menu, but only include the choices relevant to the location you clicked. Therefore, contextual menus can be a quick and efficient way of selecting the option you need. So next time you use your favorite program, try right-clicking in different areas of the screen. You might find some pretty useful options you didn't even know existed!
Updated: September 24, 2008