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How to Copy and Paste on a Mac: 4 Best Methods

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Last updated: August 26, 2023

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Copying and pasting is an essential and time-saving skill that allows you to duplicate text, images, files, and more easily. Whether you’re a new Mac user or simply looking to enhance your productivity, mastering this fundamental feature will undoubtedly streamline your daily computing tasks.

In this comprehensive guide, I’ll walk you through the various methods to copy and paste on a Mac, from the conventional keyboard shortcuts to the intuitive trackpad gestures. I’ll also explore some lesser-known tips and tricks to make the process more efficient. So, let’s get started!

What Is the Difference Between Cut/Paste and Copy/Paste on Mac?

On a Mac (and on most other computing platforms), there are two distinct operations for moving or duplicating content: Cut and Paste and Copy and Paste. These operations serve different purposes and have different effects on the source content:

1. Cut and Paste

The Cut operation removes the selected content from its original location and places it in the clipboard history on Mac. The clipboard is a temporary storage area in the computer’s memory where the cut content is held until it is pasted elsewhere.

Once the content is cut, it no longer exists in its original location, and you can paste it into a different location or application.

2. Copy and Paste

The Copy operation duplicates the selected content and places it in the clipboard, leaving the original content intact. You can paste the copied content into one or more different locations or applications without affecting the original source.

So, the main difference between Cut/Paste and Copy/Paste is that Cut moves the content from its original location to the clipboard. In contrast, Copy duplicates the content to the clipboard, leaving the original content untouched.

Both operations allow you to transfer content between different places, but Cut/Paste involves removing the source content, while Copy/Paste involves duplicating it.

Cut, Copy, and Paste on Mac: The Basics

Mastering Mac’s copy, paste, and cut operations revolves around a fundamental algorithm, regardless of the method you employ. Here are the general steps to follow for cutting, copying, and pasting text, file, or app on Mac:

  1. Begin by selecting the text, file, or any desired item you wish to copy.
  2. Save the selected item to your Mac’s clipboard with a hotkey combination or a menu command.
  3. Finally, paste the item from the clipboard into its intended new location.

Now, let’s move on to specific methods to copy and paste on a Mac.

Method 1: How to Copy and Paste on a Mac With Keyboard Shortcuts

Mac keyboard shortcuts are a major time saver in different tasks, especially the well-known copy and paste. You can copy and paste on your Mac like a pro using simple shortcuts with the Command ⌘ key.

Here are the common keyboard shortcuts for cut, copy, and paste on Mac:

  • Copy: Use Command ⌘ + C to copy the selected content
macbook air command c keys
  • Cut: Use Command + X to cut the selected content
macbook air command v keys
  • Paste: Use Command + V to paste the copied or cut content
macbook air command x keys

Now, follow these steps to use keyboard shortcuts to cut, copy, and paste on Mac:

  1. Select the text or file you want to copy or cut. You can click and drag to highlight the text.
drag and highlight the text you want to copy
  1. Press Command ⌘ + X/C, depending on whether you want to cut or copy.
  2. Place the cursor where you want to paste the copied content.
place your cursor where you want to paste your text
  1. Press Command ⌘ + V and your content will be pasted.

What Is the Mac Equivalent to Control + C and Control + V?

For those transitioning from a Windows background, remember the Mac equivalents for the familiar copy-and-paste shortcuts are as follows:

  • Ctrl + C Equivalent: Command ⌘ + C
  • Ctrl + V Equivalent: Command + V

It’s that simple! These keyboard shortcuts on Mac work just like their Windows counterparts, making the transition smooth and easy.

How to Copy and Paste Text on a Mac Without Formatting

To paste plain text that matches your document’s formatting, you can use the following keyboard shortcut on Mac:

Combine Option ⌥ and Shift ⇧ with the regular pasting shortcut: Option ⌥ + Shift ⇧ + Command ⌘ + V

macbook pro command shift option v

In certain apps, you can copy the style without the text by adding Option ⌥ to the Command ⌘ + C shortcut.

macbook pro command option c

Then, apply the style to the text of your choice with Command ⌘ + Option ⌥ + V.

macbook pro command option v

Method 2: How to Cut, Copy, and Paste on Mac Using Mouse/Trackpad

You must enable the secondary click feature before using the Mouse/Trackpad to cut, copy, or paste content on Mac. Follow these steps to enable it:

  1. Click the Apple logo in your screen’s top-left corner and choose System Settings.
click the apple icon and select system settings
  1. In System Settings, go to Trackpad.
click trackpad in system settings
  1. Under the Point & Click tab, find Secondary Click and click the drop-down menu button next to it.
select the drop down menu next to secondary click
  1. Select Click or Tap with Two Fingers from the options.
select an option from secondary click menu

Now, the secondary click is enabled on your Mac, and you can use the Trackpad to copy and paste on your Mac. Here’s how to use the Trackpad to copy and paste on a Mac:

  1. Find the text you want to copy from the document or folder.
  2. Select the text by clicking and dragging your mouse to highlight it.
drag and highlight the text you want to copy
  1. Perform a two-finger click on the selected text.
mac trackpad two finger
  1. This will open a context menu. Click Copy or Cut in the menu to copy/cut the selected text to your Mac’s clipboard.
select cut or copy from the context menu
  1. Now, open the page where you want to paste the text (e.g., a text field or document). Bring up a context menu with a two-finger click on the text field or a blank space.
mac trackpad two finger
  1. Click Paste in the context menu to paste the copied text into the selected space.
select paste from the context menu

Method 3: Cut, Copy, and Paste on a Mac Via the Menu Bar

macOS includes built-in functionality for cutting, copying, and pasting through the menu bar. The menu bar at the top of the screen displays various application-specific menus when an application is active.

To cut, copy, and paste using the menu bar on a Mac, follow these steps:

  1. Click and drag the cursor over the text you want to cut or copy, or simply click the item (e.g., file, image, or folder) to select it.
click the folder you want to copy
  1. After selecting the text or item, click the Edit menu in the menu bar and select Copy [folder/file name].
click edit and select copy folder name
  1. Position the cursor where you want to paste the copied content.
  2. Click the Edit menu again and choose Paste Item to insert the content from the clipboard.
click edit and select paste item

Method 4: Cut, Copy, and Paste on Your Mac Using the Context Menu

On a Mac, you can also use the context menu (right-click menu) to cut, copy, and paste text or items. This method is particularly useful when you want to perform these actions quickly without using keyboard shortcuts or the menu bar.

Here’s how to cut, copy and paste on Mac using the right-click or context menu method:

  1. Click and drag the cursor over the text you want to cut or copy or click the item (e.g., file, image, folder) to select it.
  2. Once you’ve selected the content, right-click (or control-click) the selected area or item. This action will open the context menu.
  3. If you want to duplicate the selected content without removing it from its current location, click Copy in the context menu to copy it to the clipboard.
click copy in the context menu
  1. Position the cursor where you want to paste the cut or copied content. Control-click again and select the Paste Item option in the context menu.
select paste item from the context menu

These context menu options and shortcuts work across most macOS applications that support text and file manipulation. However, some applications may have slightly different wording or additional options in their context menus.

Copy and Paste Like a Pro on Mac

This guide provides an extensive look into the cut, copy, and paste functions on a Mac. Whether new to macOS or a seasoned user, these tips and techniques can significantly enhance your efficiency.

Here are a few more tips to improve your overall Mac experience:

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is the difference between cutting and copying on a Mac?

    On a Mac, cutting removes selected content from its original place and places it in the clipboard, while copying duplicates the selected content and leaves it in the original location. Cutting moves content; copying duplicates it.

  2. Can I customize the keyboard shortcuts for cut, copy, and paste on macOS?

    No, you cannot customize the keyboard shortcuts for cut, copy, and paste on macOS. These shortcuts (Command ⌘ + X for cut, Command + C for copy, and Command + V for paste) are standard across macOS and most applications.

  3. What should I do if the cut, copy, and paste functions are not working on my Mac?

    If the cut, copy, and paste functions aren’t working on your Mac, check if your keyboard keys (Command ⌘ + X, C, V) function as expected. Restart your Mac, update macOS, and ensure no app is interfering. Reset NVRAM or reset the SMC on your Mac if necessary. Contact Apple Support if issues persist.

Hashir Ibrahim

Author

I'm Hashir, a tech journalist with a decade of experience. My work has been featured in some of the top tech publications like MakeUseOf and MakeTechEasier. I have a bachelor's degree in IT, a master's in cybersecurity, and extensive knowledge of Apple hardware, specifically MacBooks. As the senior writer at MacBook Journal, I write in depth guides that help you solve any issues you have with your mac and unbiased reviews that help you make the right buying decisions.

Ojash

Reviewer

Hi there! I'm Ojash, a tech journalist with over a decade of experience in the industry. I've had the privilege of contributing to some of the world's largest tech publications, making my mark as a respected Mac expert. My passion lies in exploring, using, and writing about MacBooks, and I enjoy sharing my expertise to help others make informed decisions and get the most out of their MacBook experience. Join me as we delve into the fascinating world of MacBooks together!

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