One of the buttons on the remote control isn't working.

The button can't be press.

The button can't be press down.

"Press" and "Press down" are the same? Is it the verb that can omit?

4 Answers 4


The verb "press" is both transitive and intransitive verb. When used as a transitive verb, you can say "The button can't be pressed (down)". If used as an intransitive verb, you can say "The button can't press (down). However, it's more common to say "The button won't press".

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    "The button won't press" sounds weird and is incorrect. In the sense you are trying to use it, "to press" means "to exert weight, force, or pressure." But to say "the button won't press" suggests that the button is exerting force, which is wrong. It's the finger that's exerting force (on the button). You could say say "My finger can't press", or "the button can't be pressed".
    – Phil Frost
    Jan 8, 2015 at 13:53
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    @PhilFrost - what do you say about "the car won't start or the window won't open?
    – Khan
    Jan 8, 2015 at 14:34
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    @khan A window can be open, a button cannot be press.Although saying that the button won't press is grammatically correct.
    – user15361
    Jan 8, 2015 at 14:44
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    @Khan A fair point. Maybe cars start themselves, but I don't have a good explanation for windows. Perhaps those are just more established idioms. I have never once (American English) heard "the button won't press".
    – Phil Frost
    Jan 8, 2015 at 15:09
  • @Phil Frost: I have heard that idiom, though I do agree it is idiomatic and thus a hazy part of grammar. I think the pattern of that idiom most often appears in technical situations where it is possible that the user doesn't know how to initiate an action, but knows the effect they seek. "The button wont press" not only suggests the "button can't be pressed," but that the speaker is not expecting a technician to reply "oh, you don't press that button, you ask the computer verbally, and it presses it for you." because they believe the button itself is actually the broken part.
    – Cort Ammon
    Jan 8, 2015 at 16:17

In that particular sentence, the common way to say that is: "The button can't be pressed."

However it would also be valid to say "The button can't be pressed down.", just not common.

Press is the verb, and down is an adverb describing how the pressing happens. Things can be pressed without being pressed down. You can press something against a wall.

The definition from MW: "to act upon through steady pushing or thrusting force exerted in contact."


One of the buttons on the remote control isn't working.

...is the perfect way to say that. For one particular button...

Hey, that button is not working.

'Not working' button is different from 'unpresseable' button. You may certainly press the button, but it won't function. Say a volume 'minus' button. It's not working. However, you can certainly press it.

Is that what you want to convey? There could be some instances where buttons 'cannot be pressed' at all -say jammed buttons, but I don't think that is in your mind.

[This may not answer your question but I thought it is worth to mention this angle].

You need to clarify it to have a good and relevant answer. The choices of words depend on the context as well. :)

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    Okay - "the button cannot be pressed can't be true, because we can certainly press the button." Granted, that's true in a technical sense. However, English is flexible enough that if someone said, "I can't press the button," I would NOT reply by saying, "Why? Is there something wrong with your arm?" I would assume the speaker means, "When I press the button, it won't go down" (in other words, "the button is stuck"). I'm going to upvote this answer for raising an excellent point, but only with the caveat that "I can't press the button" or "The button won't press" IS valid idiomatic English.
    – J.R.
    Jan 8, 2015 at 10:25
  • Sure sure...that's a valid idiomatic English, I just wanted to draw an attention on the point that you caught very well! :)
    – Maulik V
    Jan 8, 2015 at 10:34
  • It's worth bringing up! A lot of miscommunication happens because of idiosyncrasies like that. "Why did you call an ambulance?!" "Because – you said you couldn't push the button!" (Maybe that seems far-fetched, but that kind of thing does happen from time to time. And I can see how a doctor would want to be very careful to give a wording that can't be misconstrued somehow.)
    – J.R.
    Jan 8, 2015 at 10:43

I suppose you could also opt to use the adjective 'depressed', as in "The button can no longer be depressed".

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    "Depressed" has multiple meanings. While I agree your construction is totally unambiguous, I did have fun misreading it as a declaration that the button is no longer sad. :)
    – Cort Ammon
    Jan 8, 2015 at 16:18
  • While being technically correct, this is just bad advice
    – levininja
    Jan 8, 2015 at 17:42
  • levininja - please could you elaborate on why you think this? Jan 8, 2015 at 17:44

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