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Once per turn when you hit a creature with your pact weapon, you can expend a warlock spell slot to deal an extra 1d8 force damage to the target, plus another 1d8 per level of the spell slot, and you can knock the target prone if it is Huge or smaller.

Since it says "can knock the target prone." I assumed it was optional, (though you wouldn't have much reason not to if in melee, within 5 ft.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Aside: prone targets grant advantage to attacks from within 5 feet, and impose disadvantage on attacks from farther that 5 feet away, so knocking down targets may annoy your ranged allies. \$\endgroup\$ – Joel Harmon Oct 13 at 17:02
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Knocking the target prone is optional.

You have understood the feature correctly. "Can" indicates that you are able to, but does not indicate that you are compelled to.

If the prone-knocking were not optional, it would read something like:

and the target is knocked prone if it is huge or smaller.

This is similar to the language used in many features which knock targets prone. For example, the spell destructive wave (PHB, pg. 231) says:

Each creature you choose within 30 feet of you must succeed on a Constitution saving throw or take 5d6 thunder damage, as well as 5d6 radiant or necrotic damage (your choice), and be knocked prone.

The spell description states what happens - targets are knocked prone when they fail the save, and it is not optional.

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