Very often we need to speak generically about clicking or tapping an item, but there seems to be a lack of vocabulary in English for this. We could just say "click or tap" every time, but that is just clumsy.

Select is often used as a generic term, but it also has a different meaning (as in select text with the cursor) so could cause some confusion.

So what word can be used to refer to "clicking or tapping" an item?


I regularly work on web apps that run on a browser, so they are used on mobile (touch-based) and PCs. I've used the term 'click' in the past as a generic term, but on user testing it has shown to cause some confusion for users. Select has been the clearest, but I am loathe to use that term as it has another meaning.

Some references:

  • Similar discussion at English SE
  • Cennydd Bowles (of Twitter and AListApart) offers Selecting (dead link)
  • Not everyone agrees
  • Microsoft isn't very clear either ("click or tap X") in their Win8 UX Guide (dead link)
  • 3
    Thanks for the references Koen. They improve the question.
    – JohnGB
    Commented Apr 11, 2013 at 13:25
  • 2
    fwiw inside the Android SDK the concept is generally referred to as click such as with an OnClickListener for a button.
    – FoamyGuy
    Commented Apr 11, 2013 at 15:25
  • 5
    @FoamyGuy to play devils advocate, computers defragment memory heaps, but you won't see that in a general-user guide to the device. Commented Apr 11, 2013 at 18:38
  • 3
    Discombobulate the Z-axis of foo
    – Izkata
    Commented Apr 11, 2013 at 20:23
  • 2
    Click or TOUCH... Touching is gentle. Tapping is a harder blow. And they are touch screens not tap screens.
    – PhillipW
    Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 18:35

24 Answers 24


If you feel like jumping the action (click/tap) you can directly say "Select" the ...

Rather than a generic word, I would suggest you try to check what device the person is using and then say "click/tap" appropriate for the platform. But, then come the devices with both, a peripheral device and touch capability, which make this situation awkward-ish. You can still go with 'tap' since they are primarily touch (?) for interaction.

Also, I think you can use 'click' universally, since if you keep the sounds on, most platforms play a 'click' sound when you tap/click on any icon.

  • 7
    Select is a perfect answer in my opinion. What if we start blinking our eyes to select an option tomorrow (as in Project Glass)? Is it a click just because we mimic a clicking sound to give feedback of the selection?
    – kush
    Commented Apr 11, 2013 at 13:56
  • 20
    Disagree; select is ambiguous with other types of action. Ex Does "select start" mean click/tap something with the word start on it, or drag/swipe to highlight it to be copied onto the clipboard. Commented Apr 11, 2013 at 17:34
  • 4
    @DanNeely It is contextual... if it is a button/link then it means to click/tap, if it is a text block it means highlight. The UI element will signify what it means.
    – rk.
    Commented Apr 11, 2013 at 17:46
  • 4
    I like 'select' because it also accepts that some people might be using input devices other than mice/fingers; for example, a text-based web browser, or an older phone or game console with a WAP-style browser. Either way, cursor + select keys.
    – fluffy
    Commented Apr 11, 2013 at 21:01
  • 6
    Select, to me, sounds strongly like choosing among options, as in a dropdown menu. But I agree, "click" has a more universal meaning. In this instance, "click" is a metaphor, perhaps a sort of skeuomorphism: you are either clicking the physical button of a mouse, or clicking the virtual button on the screen.
    – Taj Moore
    Commented Apr 12, 2013 at 5:23

Select or Press

Just thinking about it from the perspective of the item. It will be selected/pressed by either the user's finger or the mouse cursor. Either of those work.

  • 2
    Technically pressing is what you are doing on both occasions so press does seem much clearer and concrete.
    – uxzapper
    Commented Apr 12, 2013 at 0:15
  • @uxzapper but what about voice control then? Commented Apr 12, 2013 at 6:56
  • 3
    "by either the user's finger or the mouse cursor" = as Koen hints at, there are many more ways to interact with a device than the physically pressing. Voice control, eye tracking, gestures, motion sensing, etc.
    – DA01
    Commented Apr 12, 2013 at 20:53
  • 1
    +1 for Press, though I think Select is more ambiguous as discussed above. Commented May 24, 2013 at 10:12
  • In my opinion pressing is misleading as it just means pressing the finger/pointer down. A click or tap is only performed after both pressing and releasing the finger/pointer. E.g. you can also do a long press on something which would perform a different action (opening a context menu,...)
    – coeing
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 21:48

Press (you either press the mouse button to click on a link, or you directly press the display if it's a touch device)

  • We expect answers which provide a new viewpoint through reasoning or research, could you provide that to your answer?
    – Pesikar
    Commented Apr 12, 2013 at 12:28
  • Press usually means a longer tap, so already has a different meaning.
    – JohnGB
    Commented Apr 12, 2013 at 19:46
  • 1
    Correct, "press" is the right term, although it's often misused in place of "press and hold" but that will soon iron itself out.
    – obelia
    Commented Apr 13, 2013 at 3:22

Silly comments

I'm a Spanish speaker, and this question comes from a prestigious member wearing the "GB" letters in his name, so I'm intimidated. But anyway ...
In Spanish, quite informally almost humorously, I use the verb picar that means to peck. Mouse pointers and fingers behave like birds while eating.
Now I realize that this silly word pictures both actions.

Serious comment

What I wouldn't use is select, which was nominated several times above.
To me select is what happens immediately after you beak on a Windows icon (for example): it changes it appearance in order to look as a selected icon.

My answer

In some IT applications there are property sets that contain, among other data, some word for items.
Like for example the word for scripted actions is "sh" in *NIX, "bat" in PC DOS, "job" in mainframe.
Web apps can be sent a property bag with words for things that are slightly different in the various clients, and do replacements after having recognized the media.
Thus, in UIs equipped with touch screens (not necessarily mobile) the name of the thing would be tap while in mouse-operated UIs click.
Something like i18n, isn't it?

This is not to say that it's possible to do a knee-jerk replacement of every "click" by a "tap". The replaceable instances must be carefully tagged.
Also, if the UI was going to be translated, English is a best scenario where click can be used as a noun and several verbal forms too. It's not so in Spanish where you would need several words.

  • 2
    To "beak" would translate, I think, to "peck." I like it. Commented Jun 4, 2013 at 19:49

The button or link should already speak for itself.

I'm surprised this hasn't been mentioned before, but why not omit the word entirely? The link or button should already indicate it is interactive, so the content should represent the action to perform when clicked or tapped. For example, instead of saying "Click to send me an email," or "Tap to check out," one would be more concise to just say "Send me an email" or "Check out." Not only does it become medium-agnostic, but the text will more specifically spell out what the item will do. Furthermore, SEO will be more accurate as well, as the link will more appropriately match the title of the next page or content.

  • But there may be things like external documentation that tells you to do X, then press Y. Or even referring to it internally among the team. And can handle the UI presented on different types of devices. Commented Jan 10, 2022 at 1:37

Both "select" and "choose" have worked well in usability tests I've done.

  • What context was it tested in?
    – rk.
    Commented Apr 20, 2013 at 21:24
  • Good question. Both with B2C web sites a couple of times (when we were moving from copy with explicit "click" instructions since it was causing confusion when were testing on non-mice devices).
    – user597
    Commented Apr 21, 2013 at 9:59
  • I have been scrolling down looking for the word "Choose". It seemed so obvious.
    – user67695
    Commented Jan 31, 2017 at 17:31

I've had this on my mind often, too. Until I see something better, I'm of the position that the two terms should not be co-presented, nor should we use a common word.

What is one word that can be used to describe a bark or a meow?

Here's why:

One word would convey that the communication wasn't prepared for the audience that is hearing it.

The core issue is one of agency. A tap is embodied. A click has agency through a proxy. The mapping of the agency (mouse) is what inhibits using a single word.

Further, a person using a tablet has access to interactive gestures that are not available to the desktop (mouse -> click). The text should address the user's context.

It follows the same pattern as printing "they received the package" instead of "he received the package" or "she received the package". Many people will print 'they' because they want to skirt the issue that they don't know the context about which they're speak. If we came up with a platform-neuter word, we would only further avoid writing for the context of the reader.

  • "The text should address the user's context" = while true, it's less than ideal in the world of interaction documentation. If we're building a responsive site and I have to write separate interaction notes for clicking vs. tabbing vs. tapping, it's going to cause a whole lot more problems with documentation overload.
    – DA01
    Commented Jul 30, 2013 at 14:52
  • 1
    @DA01 your convenience is the users' pain. Remember that Commented Jul 30, 2013 at 17:30
  • 1
    I'm not sure what you mean. How is creating a device-agnostic solution painful for the user? That's a benefit for the user. It appears you're implying that different devices and different users should require different UIs?
    – DA01
    Commented Jul 30, 2013 at 17:37
  • 2
    oh! Wait...I think I see the confusion. The OP isn't clear on this: Are we talking about the terminology we use internally, or are we talking about the terminology we use with the end-user? That...COULD make a difference. That said, I'd still argue for an agnostic term as we simply can't or don't know what the user's preferred interaction method will be. The purpose of a lot of web solutions is to be agnostic in that regard.
    – DA01
    Commented Jul 30, 2013 at 17:40
  • 1
    @Armstrongest Those each sound like vocalizations to me Commented Sep 5, 2019 at 23:20

Both click and tap are supposed to mimic the same thing from the real physical world, which is the action of using a button on a keyboard or a light switch to mention some. Tapping is fairly new and came to life and became popular with the emergence of touch controls, where the word “click” seems to be a bit off. Your actually tapping the screen, not hitting the enter button on the keyboard or a mouse button to control a non-physical button on the screen.

There are two ways to look at this problem. Either you disregard the fact what you use in the physical word and only use click, since you’re clicking a virtual button. Or you keep on relying on the use of the physical real world where click would refer to keyboard or mouse and tap would refer to touch interface.

My advice would be to only use click, and focus on the virtual environment on the screen.

enter image description here

  • 3
    One thing I've run into with 'click' is that developers sometime literally translate that into something like an onClick event. The problem is that they may then attach it to a div and suddenly there's no way to 'select' it via a keyboard because you can't tab to it. That SHOULDN'T be a UX problem, as the dev team really should understand the full spectrum of how users interact with the code, but I find 'select' helps a little in communicating that better than 'click'.
    – DA01
    Commented Apr 12, 2013 at 21:56

"Hit" would be a good fit. You can hit something directly with your hand or indirectly with a cursor.

  • 1
    It is a good suggestion but for some reason to me it has a negative feel to the word. Since hit is predominantly used for meaning violence.
    – rk.
    Commented Apr 18, 2013 at 14:38
  • 2
    I like this, though it is on the informal side. "To vote for your favourite song, hit the button" sounds fine, but "To download your medical records, hit the button" seems incongruous. Commented Jul 30, 2013 at 23:38
  • @rk Google Analytics used to use Page hits but I see your point. Still +1 for an option that wasn't thought of. Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 16:42

The WinRT XAML framework for Windows 8 apps calls it "press" as in "[a] pointer device initiates a Press action". But this is jargon and might not be suitable for users.


Click or Tap strikes me more useful as actions, or the words to describe choosing an action. I click the Home button on my iPhone to bring me to the Home Screen. I tap an app icon to launch the icon. In your example, clicking or tapping an item is choosing to press some button or graphic or ticking a box. As someone else mentioned, the UI will make it clear what it is the user is choosing to do.

Place the word you wish to use within the graphic which requires the action. So if after filling in a form the user has to "Submit" the information, place a button with the word "Submit" and instruct the user to press the "Submit" button. You could in fact also use the word "Choose": If you are ready to submit your information, choose the 'Submit' button.

If there are options to choose from, same idea; use the actual word in a graphic which the user has to 'choose", i.e.: Choose which job descriptions suits you best - followed by buttons with the choices written inside them.

  • +1 for Choose, a word not embattled by technology.
    – user67695
    Commented Jan 31, 2017 at 17:39

So the immediate options are Select, Press or Choose, but I believe there would be few mobile users who would not understand Click

Optimally, you have desinged for the device... meaning everything about the user experience has been designed for the platform its being interacted with (goes to the core of the argument against responsive design) However, not every project can be developed this way.

I would choose from these options based on context. Interesting question - how technology changes the nomenclatures of UI.

  • There is an argument against responsive design? I like the word Choose, it seems more high-level than Click or Press. Everyone can choose, but clicking, pressing, etc are dependent on the current implementation, which obviously is going to change.
    – user67695
    Commented Jan 31, 2017 at 17:34

Buttons mirror a real world button hence you should use the real world term. eg for buttons I would use Press


For many years Microsoft has made it established usage to use "press" and "key" when speaking of the keyboard, and "click" and "button" when speaking of the mouse and the virtual buttons on the screen. The distinction has been very useful for 10 or 20 years. Rather than throw away a distinction that is still often required, we should keep those distinctive words and their recognised meanings, and ADD to them a generic word for when we need to be "device-agnostic". Sometimes we need to make distinctions; sometimes we need to be generic.

Someone else somewhere has suggested "activate" for the generic "press/click/tap" meaning we now need. I have mixed feelings about "activate": it's a laborious trisyllabic word, lacking the quick grace of "click" and "tap", so I hope "activate" doesn't actually win the day. But on the other hand it's a new word (well, new to this area, at any rate), so we can give it a suitable UI meaning without having to bend and break the long-standing definitions of "press" or "click". Further, its existing non-UI meaning is already very close to the meaning we need (press/click/tap). If we were to pick "activate", we would not have to do violence to any existing meaning or interfere with any existing set of terms. We could therefore give it the desired "device-agnostic" meaning. But "activate" definitely does not trip off the tongue, and I hope we can find something less leaden.

  • Welcome to the site, @Stephen! Do you have any sources you can cite to support your assertions that Microsoft has made it established usage to use "press" and "key" or that Someone else somewhere has suggested "activate". (Where is the usage established by Microsoft? For example, is there a style guide? Who suggested "activate"?) Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 4:38
  • 1
    There's this Microsoft blog confirming the difference between "click" and "press": blogs.windows.com/windowsexperience/2009/07/14/…
    – Stephen F
    Commented Nov 3, 2015 at 0:07
  • I'll try to find something about the difference between "button" and "key". As to the proposal to use "activate" to cover "click", "press" and "tap", I can't now remember where I came across that!
    – Stephen F
    Commented Nov 3, 2015 at 0:14

This is fun semantic debate, but at the end of the day if the context is interface copy for users — rather than documentation language — I don't think there can be one correct, universal term that transcends devices and languages. More importantly, the interface shouldn't have to explicitly say "click" or "tap" or "press".

Our brains process visual information far faster than textual information. If it looks like it can be clicked or tapped, it will be. Just give an iPhone to 2 year old who can't read.

Also, it is a good UX principle to inform the user what will happen on the other side of the "click" or "tap", so the interface copy should focus on what the action will do anyways (e.g. "Save Draft").

On the other hand, if it is meant for documentation then you should use the appropriate action corresponding to the event attribute:

  • Form events (focus, blur... )
  • Keyboard events (keyup, keydown...)
  • Mouse events (click, drag, mouseover...)
  • Touch events (touchstart, touchend, touchmove...)

Especially important if you are using an interaction library that has its own actions, like Hammer's pan, swipe, tap, press or jQuery, Greensock, etc.


It's a pity "clap" is already taken.

Maybe "click/tap". Is that simpler or more complex than "click or tap"?

I find "click or tap" the lesser of two evils (more decision-making vs new term that is probably more ambiguous and less precise) because it uses two highly automated and contextual behaviors.

  • I playfully suggested 'clap' as a good term in chat. It isn't currently used as a transitive verb, so it wouldn't be confused given context.
    – JohnGB
    Commented Apr 12, 2013 at 7:57
  • 2
    Oddly, enough, the inverse portmanteau would be better: "tick". 'Ticking a box' is a common expression throughout the EU, and a 'tick' action somehow feels similar to both a mouse click, and a tap. Commented Apr 12, 2013 at 13:56
  • It's setting a precedence, though. Ideally you'd list out all ways to interact which can get silly. Click or Tap or Press Return or etc.
    – DA01
    Commented Apr 12, 2013 at 20:56
  • @JohnGB point of order: "Clap" can be intransitive (They clap) or transitive (They clap their hands). But you're right in saying that context would make it clear. Commented Jul 30, 2013 at 23:40

What about Interact? It's a much broader term but it depends how specific you need to be.

I must admit I cant think of a term without an issue

  • Select could = select(highlight) like you would with text.
  • Tick could = tick box
  • check could = check box

Would it be terrible to continue using "click/tap"?

What about "strike", although you may end up with people hitting their devices a little too hard!


we use "interact"

example: button.on("interact", function () { ... })

  • That's more of an example for developers rather than end users.
    – JonW
    Commented Apr 12, 2015 at 16:10

To surrender to the 2 words being different and not having one word to describe both actions, I usually just use CSS to show the word click when a site is being viewed on a PC and touch when on a mobile device. The only issue is that some PCs are touch screen but I think those users understand.


The word Choose serves that purpose.

I am the administrator of a forum and I have struggled with this for some time. In that forum, I create help guides on how to use the forum. When giving instructions to 7000+ members who use a variety of devices, my term "click" that I've used for years, just doesn't seem to apply for me. In my opinion "choose" serves that purpose.

For example - You will see a tab that says "View new messages" Choose the "View New Messages tab."

  • Right. When we consider the user's task instead of the implementation, we can communicate with them in terms they will understand. Too often, technology forces terminology and workflows on people based on what it was easy or cheap to get the machine to do. But there is no reason that words cannot be easy to understand, and use terms that do not have to be revised over and over.
    – user67695
    Commented Jan 31, 2017 at 17:37

In the early 90's, technical writing classes used to teach that the use of the word "click" was confusing to people who had never used a computer, and "select" or "press" should should be used instead. I however, believe that "click" is now common verb in the English lexicon and few people have any issue understanding the word. It seems to elicit far less confusing than "select", which does not imply or define the method (e.g. clicking a mouse button vs. using the keyboard).


We most need the click & tap verbs when writing a certain elementary level of functional instructions in which it's not enough to say simply, "Accomplish this end," but when we need to explain how to go about doing so.

The idea of chameleon text is technically cool, although automatically using Tap on mobiles and Click on mouse-driven devices may be as myopic as assuming nationality or language group according to the geographical location of the visitor. As though folks never traveled abroad! I have been known to look up mobile device instructions on my laptop.

Therefore I join those who would choose a single cross-platform verb. Peck is certainly funny enough to qualify, even if some might object to an ill-conceived instruction manual that urges us to "slide your pecker up to scroll." Portmanteaus of click and tap such as Tick, Tack, and Clap deserve equally serious consideration.

"Select" ought to work - after all, Tim Berners-Lee got there first with the HTML select element. But someone started using it to mean to highlight text and the ambiguity began.

If at some point we give up and resort to another metaphor on the same level as Select, I suggest Choose. I've been using it successfully for some time now and haven't been flamed for it once.


Technically, Click refers to a selection from any input-device.

Computers. the act of rapidly depressing and releasing a button on a mouse or other input device, usually the left-hand button, as to select an icon.


  • Touching the screen means there is no button on the input device. There actually is no input device
    – Jason
    Commented Jun 21, 2014 at 1:16
  • 1
    The input device is the screen. But you could refer to this as an input method. Commented Jun 24, 2014 at 0:52
  • Agreed, but since the screen doesn't have a button to click, the definition doesn't apply.
    – Jason
    Commented Jun 24, 2014 at 2:22
  • The screen is the button in the same way a track pad is a button. Commented Jun 24, 2014 at 13:08
  • A trackpad is not always a button, but only when it can be physically pressed down (physically moved from one state to another via pressure). A screen is never a button, . Thus, click does not hold.
    – Jason
    Commented Jun 26, 2014 at 5:35

The correct answer is select. "Select yes or no" "Select your option below" "Select continue" It works the best and I will continue to use it. Thank you all is been enlightening.

  • How do you say that this is correct?
    – Ren
    Commented Aug 30, 2019 at 8:00

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