How to Cut, Copy and Paste in Windows, Mac, Linux, Android and IOS

By Tim Chesonis •  Updated: 04/20/20 •  16 min read

The Cut, Copy and Paste functionality has been with us for years. Though each operating system may vary in how these functions are implemented, every modern operating system uses them, but what are the keyboard shortcuts for each of the 5 most widely used operating systems today?

At some point, everyone who uses a computer, tablet or cell phone, will need to learn how to copy and paste when using that device.  It is a basic skill, but an important skill that you need to know how to use.  I want to assure you that you, that of all places on the internet, you have come to the right place to learn how to copy and paste. 

For your convenience, I have provided a Quick Access Menu for you to quickly access detailed step-by-step instructions on how to copy and paste using the operating system or device of your choice.

Quick Access Menu

How Does Cut, Copy and Paste Work?

Let’s start by showing the difference between CUT and COPY.

What Does it Mean to CUT?

When you CUT something, you are in effect, removing it from where it was for the purpose of moving it to another location.  Once you CUT text, an image, or a file from one location, it no longer exists in the location that you CUT it from. 

What Does it Mean to COPY?

Basically, you are making a copy of something.  Stay with me now, because I’m going to elaborate and clarify in a moment.

To understand how to cut, copy and paste works, let’s first talk about what we can cut, copy and paste. There are basically three categories that you can cut, copy and paste. They are as follows:

  1. Text
    Additionally, it is important to understand that when you cut or copy text from a text field or from a within a document, you can only paste the text that you have copied into another text field or document. A text field can be found within a form on the website, or the URL field at the top of your web browser, and of course, from within a document as we have already mentioned.
  2. Images
    An image can be copied by right clicking on the imaging question and then selecting copy from the pop-up menu that appears. This can be done from with in a document or on any image found on the Internet.  Once copied, it can be pasted into a document or into an image editor such as Photoshop.
  3. Files
    A file can be copied from one location to another location.  For example, if you wanted to copy a file from within Windows File Manager to the the Windows Desktop.

What is the Clipboard?

You can think of the Clipboard as temporary storage placeholder for whatever it is that you cut or copy.  The clipboard concept is utilized in windows, Lenox, Mac, android and IOS.  If I may, let me use an analogy to drive the point home.

Note that if you CUT or COPY something, whatever it is that you have cut or copied, will reside on the Clipboard until you PASTE it somewhere.

Let’s say that you were going to move from one house to another home in another town, but the new house that you want to move into is not quite ready yet. For the sake of argument, let’s say that you need to move (CUT) your furniture out of your current home out right away because another family is going to move into your house.  Because the house that you are going to move into is not ready yet, you’ll need to temporarily move (CUT), all of your furniture into a short term storage facility.  Once the new house is ready for you to move in, you then move (PASTE), the furniture into your new home.

The moving storage facility analogy does not quite work with the COPY concept, so let me offer you a different analogy for the COPY concept.

If you were to take a document and ask your local office supply store to make a copy of that document for you, they would take that document and place it in a copy machine.  In this analogy, the copy machine (Clipboard), serves as the placeholder of the original document before it makes a copy of the document.

The Clipboard is like the storage facility in our example. It serves as a temporary placeholder for anything that you cut or copy.  Once you paste whatever it is that you copied to the  pboard (storage facility), it is moved from the clipboard to its new home (the new document). 

How to Cut, Copy and Paste in Windows Using the Keyboard

I have been using the CUT, COPY and PASTE shortcut keys for over 30 years now. I still use them, and no doubt, you will too, as long as computers use keyboards. 

When using Windows, press the CTRL + C keys at the same time to copy text, an image or a file. 

To CUT (move) text, and image or a file from one location to another, press the CTRL + X keys at the same time to CUT the text, image or file to the Clipboard. 

To paste what you have already cut, press and hold the CTRL + V keys to paste that text, image or file to the new location. 

How to Cut, Copy and Paste in Windows Using a Mouse

Alternately, you could use your mouse as to cut, copy and paste. To use your mouse, carefully select the text you want to comply by left-clicking just prior to the first word you want to copy, and after you have dragged your mouse over all the text you want to copy, release the left mouse button. 
Now that all of your text is highlighted, when you right-click anywhere within the highlighted text, a pop-up menu will appear that looks like the image below. 

Left-click on the word COPY, and the pop-up menu will disappear.  The text that you have just now copied is located on the clipboard. All you need to do now it to paste that text, image or file, and you can easily do so by placing your cursor at the location where you want to paste, left-click to secure the location, and then right-click and choose PASTE from the popup menu that appears.  Whatever you copied to the Clipboard has now been pasted to the new location.  Mind you, the original file still exists where you copied it from, you just now have a copy of the original text, image or file in a new location.

You can follow the same instructions that I have just laid out for you to CUT text, and image or a file from one location to the other.  The only difference is that after you select the text, image, or file, you’ll need to right-click and choose CUT (see image below).

Once cut, you will need to place your cursor at the location where you want to paste the text, image or file by left-click (to secure the location), and then right-click and choose PASTE from the popup menu that appears.

Whichever method you choose to cut, copy and paste text, images, or files, is completely up you.  There is no “better way”.  In some situations, you may find that it is more convenient to use one method over the other, and that’s OK.  You should choose whatever is most convenient and familiar to you.

How to Cut, Copy and Paste in Linux Using a Keyboard

One of the attractive things about Linux, is the ability to control every aspect of the operating system.  With that freedom, however, it is entirely possible to easily (and completely), destroy the operating system from within, by “tinkering” within the Terminal window.  Using Linux is a lot of fun, because there are so many things that you can do with Linux that other operating systems prevent you from doing, and using the terminal window is where most of the “tinkering” takes place.

In most applications that use a GUI (Graphical User Interface), environment, you can use the same shortcut keys to (CTRL + X, CTRL + C, CTRL + V) in Linux that you use in Windows.  However, when using the Terminal window in Linux, in order to Cut, Copy and Paste, you will need to use the following keyboard shortcuts:

The reason for the added SHIFT key is because the other key combinations had long since been assigned before Cut, Copy and Paste came about.  Note that you can Cut or Copy text from a GUI environment, but you still need to use the SHIFT + CTRL + X, SHIFT + CTRL + C, and SHIFT + CTRL + VSHIFT + CTRL + VSHIFT + CTRL + V key combinations to Cut, Copy and Paste into the Terminal window.

As an added bonus, I’m going to show 4 more Linux keyboard shortcuts relating to Cut and Copy that I would like to share with you.  Mind you, these shortcuts are really only used by people who are very familiar with the terminal window and use it on a daily basis.

How to Cut, Copy and Paste in Linux Using a Mouse

Fortunately, Linux uses the familiar right-click Cut, right-click Copy, and right-click Paste mouse controls as almost every GUI operating system.  So as not to restate what has already been addressed in this article, please read the section above, “How to Cut, Copy and Paste in Windows Using a Mouse“.

Using the Middle Mouse Button in a Terminal Window

If your mouse has a middle button, you can highlight test in the terminal window, place your cursor on a new command line, and gently press down on the scroll-wheel to copy and paste the text.  This little trick allows you to copy and paste text within the terminal window at the same time.

How to Cut, Copy and Paste on a Mac

The Mac is similar to Windows and Linux when it comes to cutting or copying text, an image or a file, in that it too, only uses two keys in a graphical environment, but the keys used are different.

The Keyboard on a Mac is Different

You’ll notice that the image of the Mac keyboard (displayed below), does not have an ALT key (and obviously, it does not have a Windows key). The COMMAND key is very important, as it is used in combination with nearly all shortcut keys, as is the case for our discussion here.

On a Mac (Desktop or Laptop), you will find that the COMMAND key is conveniently present on both sides of the spacebar. To Cut, Copy, or Paste, you will need to use the following shortcut key combinations.

These key combinations function exactly as you might think, allowing you to Cut or Copy text, an image or file from one location to another.

The Mouse for a Mac is Different

Apple makes its own mouse, and looks different, but functions the same as a mouse for Windows and Linux. You’ll notice that it does not appear to have a right and left mouse button, and that is correct, it doesn’t. However, the technology is intelligent enough to know if you are right-clicking, or left-clicking.

As with both Windows and Linux, left-click on the word COPY or CUT, and the pop-up menu will instantly disappear.  The text that you have just now copied (or cut), is now located on the Clipboard.  To paste that text, image or file you have just copied or cut, simply place your cursor at the location where you want to paste, left-click to secure the location, and then right-click and choose PASTE from the popup menu that appears.

If you have never used used a “Magic Mouse” by Apple, it may take some getting used to. You’ll ask yourself, “How does it know that I left-clicked!?” It knows.

How to Copy and Paste using an Android Device

To cut or copy text on an Android device, (cell phone or tablet), simply find the text that you wish to cut or copy and then double-tap to select the text, (or press and hold until the text is selected). Now tap CUT TEXT or COPY TEXT

To paste, simply tap where you would like to paste the text, and then select PASTE.

How to Copy and Paste using an iPhone or an iPad

Though the look and feel of the iPhone is very different than that of an Android, you cut, copy, and paste text, or an image on an iPhone using the same procedure you would use on an Android device. But the iPhone has one thing up its sleeve that Android devices do not. In fact, Apple is able to do one thing that an Android device is not able to do. If you have an an iPhone or an iPad, I promise you will not regret reading this next section.

One More Thing

Steve Jobs, (the founder of Apple Computer), was infamous for closing out every Keynote address at the annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), with three of the most anticipated words of the event.  “One more thing”.  What followed was the highlight of the Keynote address.  Usually it would be the unveiling of a new product or service that everyone was clamoring for.

Not surprisingly, the feature that I am referring to now, is offered by Apple.  It is called “Universal Clipboard”.  “With Universal Clipboard, you can copy text, images, photos, and videos on one Apple device and then paste the content on another Apple device.

For example, you can copy a paragraph of text from within a Microsoft Word document on your Mac, and paste that same paragraph into the Notes app on your iPad or even your iPhone.  You can also copy files or images from your iPhone and paste them to the Finder app on your Mac or Files app on your iPad.  Need to move a video you finished editing in Garage Band on your iPad to your MacBook?  No problem.  Simply tap on the file on your iPad with your finger, and then tap COPY.  Now, without the need for cables or wires of any kind, open up Finder on your MacBook, and with your mouse right-click and PASTE the file into Finder.  The file will automatically copy over to your MacBook.  All without the use of cables or wires.

 The only caveat is that in order to use Universal Clipboard, your Mac, iPhone or iPad must meet Continuity system requirements. You also must turn on Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Handoff in System Preferences (on your Mac) and make sure that these same settings are enabled in the Settings app on your iPhone or iPad. Finally, all devices that you want to copy and paste to (or from), must be using the same Apple ID.  In other words, you have to be signed into these devices with the same Apple ID.  No biggie.

I use this feature all the time, and find myself much more productive.  I no longer have to e-mail myself text, a file or a photo.  I simply copy from one device, and paste it on the other device.  Pure genius.

Tim Chesonis

Tim has been helping people with computers needs for several years, and he loves to help people succeed. He brings a wealth of wisdom and insight from an entrepreneur's perspective and enjoys freelance writing. In fact, when he's not writing an article, you might find him binge-watching Suits or formatting his computer . . . again, just for fun. To learn more about Tim, click here.