Basic Vocabulary


There are certain basic computer-related terms that you should know before you start doing the rest of this tutorial. If you are a new computer user, it might be a good idea to keep this list on a separate page as you work in case you come across any terms in the tutorial that you are not familiar with.

List of terms

Button: a button is a graphical item (usually square or rectangular in shape) that you click on (once) to execute a command. All of the following are examples of buttons:
Click: a click happens when you press down on a mouse button once. When the term click is used on its own, it refers to the action of pressing down the left mouse button. Clicks are used to select items or to place the mouse cursor in a particular position on the screen.

Double-click: a double-click happens when you click on an item two times in a row very quickly using the left mouse button. Double-clicking on a file or folder opens it.

Right-click: a right-click happens when you place your mouse cursor over an item and then press down the right mouse button once. In almost all cases, this action results in the contextual menu for that item opening.

Contextual menu: a contextual menu appears when you right-click on an item. Contextual menus are different from other menus because the menu items they show are not predefined, but rather depend on the context in which you are working, the applications that are open at the same time and the item selected.

Cursor: the cursor is a visual representation of your mouse on the screen. Most of the time the cursor will appear as a little arrow. In text editing applications, it can also look like a long capital letter I.

Dragging: dragging is the act of moving an item on your screen from one location to another using your mouse. To drag an item, place your cursor over an item, press down on the left mouse button and without letting go of the mouse button, move the mouse across the screen. You will see a little transparent copy of the item appear, which moves with your cursor. To put your item down after you have dragged it to the new location, just release the mouse button.

Dialog box: a dialog box is a little box that appears on the screen in response to something that you do, gives you information, and asks you for a simple response. For example, if you try to close an application while you are working on something in it, a dialog box may appear asking you if you want to save your work before closing the application like in the example below.


Drive: a drive is a section of space on your computer in which you can store files. Drives are usually named by a capital letter followed by a colon (ie C:, D:), although some drives have a more natural name in addition to this. All computers have at least one drive, the C: drive.

Drop-down list: a drop-down list is a list that is mostly hidden and almost always looks something like this: Only the first item in the list is visible, on the screen inside a box, with a little arrow next to the item. When you click on the arrow, a box 'drops down' below the first item revealing the rest of the items in the list.

FAQ: FAQ stands for Frequently Asked Questions.

File: a file is an item on your computer that contains information which can be read by an application. For example, a Microsoft Word document is a file.

Folder: a folder, usually represented on the screen by a little icon of a paper folder , is a container in which you can keep other items such as files, applications, or even other folders. A folder that is inside another folder is called a sub-folder.

Functionality: a functionality in an application is an action that the application can do. For example, being able to save a file is a functionality of many applications.

Highlight: highlighting something on a computer gives an effect similar to highlighting something with a highlighter on a piece of paper. Here, the word is highlighted. To highlight something, place the cursor next to the item you want to highlight, press down the left mouse button and while holding the button, drag the mouse over the area you want to highlight. A faster way to highlight an icon is to click on it.

Icon: an icon is a graphical representation of an item. The item in question is usually a file, an application or a folder. Double-clicking on an icon for the item will open it. Icons for an application are specific to that application. For example the icon for Microsoft Word looks like this . But, all icons used to represent files that were created by the same application are all the same. For example, all Microsoft Word files are represented by the same icon . This is why an icon is usually accompanied by the name of the file, folder or application that it represents. Also, as you can see in the examples above, the icon for the application is different from the icon for files created using that application.

Menu: a menu is a list of commands that can be performed by an application. An application usually has several menus which group together commands that perform similar types of actions. A menu can also contain other menus inside it, which are called sub-menus. Menus are usually found in a bar near the top of an application window.

Path: a path describes the location of a file or folder on your computer. A path usually consists of a drive letter followed by the names of all of the folders and sub-folders that you would need to open in order to find that file or folder. For example, D:/MyPhotos/Travel/Switzerland/Geneva/UniMail.jpg is the path of an image file called UniMail.jpg which is located in a folder called Geneva, which is located inside a folder called Switzerland, which is located inside a folder called Travel, which is located inside a folder called MyPhotos which is located on the D: drive.

Pop-up window: a pop-up window is a window that opens as a result of an action that you do in another window. A pop-up window is usually smaller in size and provides some type of supplementary information/options related to the window from which it was opened.

Tabs: tabs provide a way to switch between different sets of commands/pages within an application. Not all applications have tabs. You will most often see tabs in internet browsers like in the example below

or in pop-up windows that let you configure settings like in the example below:


Terms that are sometimes confused with one another

Microsoft Windows/Windows/windows: Microsoft Windows and Windows are interchangeable and both refer to the Microsoft Windows operating system. When written with a lower case 'w', windows refers to more than one window, or container in which you can view the contents of folders or work with applications.

Windows Explorer/Internet Explorer: Internet Explorer, as the name suggests, lets you browse on the Internet, whereas Windows Explorer lets you browse your Windows environment (ie the drives, folders and files on your computer).


Terms that can be used interchangeably


Launch/open/start/run (when talking about an application)


Additional reading

You can find more on these terms, and others that we may not have covered, in the Wikipedia