How to use the cut, copy, and paste keyboard shortcuts in Windows

Don't keep typing the same thing. Learn to copy and paste with these shortcuts

Cut, copy, paste, and undo — they’re four of the most powerful and most commonly used commands in any application. If you’re typing, these are keyboard shortcuts you should know, both to save time and correct mistakes.

First, an important note: Most keyboards support the Ctrl/Control shortcuts that Windows uses. However, there are some exceptions. The Apple keyboard, for example, uses the Command key instead of Ctrl. You may have to change keyboard shortcuts in settings or get used to a slightly different layout if your keyboard is the odd man out.

For a look at some other important keyboard shortcuts, here are some great suggestions for Windows and MacOS.

Cut (Ctrl + X)

Cut Shortcut

This keyboard shortcut has no alternative inputs (Shift + Delete was once a thing, but is now used for other commands). Note that cutting text will delete that text at the target location, but you can paste it multiple times in other areas since a version of that text remains stored on your clipboard. This is a great way to rearrange text in a report, or take a piece of information from one area and populate multiple forms with that same data.

Remember that Windows does not automatically keep a history of items on your clipboard. If you cut text and then cut a second piece of text, the first content will be lost. That is, unless you’re running one of the latest versions of Windows. The oft-delayed October 2018 update introduced an extended clipboard with history, so you can go back and re-paste something that was long-since replaced on the immediate clipboard.

Copy (Ctrl + C)

Copy Shortcut

Alternatively, you can also use Ctrl + Insert. Insert is found on expanded keyboards that include number pads (usually on zero) or alongside the Home key, and may be a more useful option if you are dealing with a lot of numeric data and your fingers rarely leave the number pad.

As with cutting, if you aren’t running a recent version of Windows, make sure that you understand when someone is copied, it replaces whatever else was on your clipboard before.

Paste (Ctrl + V)

Paste Shortcut

Alternatively, you can use Shift + Insert which again may be more useful if you spend a lot of time on the numeric keypad. The content will be pasted wherever your cursor is, so make sure you’ve picked the right spot. Remember that formatting and spacing frequently carry over with the text, which may lead to a couple of formatting issues when pasting into a new field or form. You can usually copy and paste an unformatted version of the text to help avoid these issues.

Undo (Ctrl + Z)

Undo Shortcut

This will undo the last action you made in your document. If you were typing, it will remove the last section of text you typed without pausing, which could be fairly long. Most Windows applications support repeated undo commands, which means you can delete your last action, the one before that, and the one before that, and so on, as long as the history of your actions has been kept. Adobe Photoshop, for example, lets you do so by pressing Ctrl + Alt + Z.

Don’t rely on that functionality with every app though, as not all of them support it.

Extra tip on working between apps

Cut, copy, paste and undo tend to be universal across all operating system apps. In other words, the keyboard shortcuts do the same thing whether you are writing an email, filling out an Excel spreadsheet, or typing a document in Word.

Online forms and web apps are a bit more hit or miss: Many support these shortcuts, but it’s not quite guaranteed. A little experimentation may help when first working in a new app, just to see how these basic commands perform.

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