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How to cut and paste files on a Mac

tl;dr: Use Cmd+C to start a cut/copy operation like normal, and then use Option+Cmd+V to move the file. MAGIC.

Macs have been my preferred computing platform since about 2003, my computing life has been much more enjoyable thanks to that choice over the past nearly two decades. I’m very often switching between OSes, doing lots of work still on Windows and spending a lot of time on various *nix distributions in a terminal on a server, but generally coming back at the end of the day to macOS is what makes me happy. But as any Mac user knows, there are certain… quirks… that we all get used to when we’re deep enough into the Apple ecosystem.

One of those that has always been an annoyance but one which I was always fine just dealing with was file operations on a Mac in Finder. Sure, the Column view is The Only Way to look at files sanely, and the side preview and Quick Look are absolute godsends. But you know what isn’t? Moving files around. Specifically cutting and pasting files. On Windows and basically every other operating system on the planet, you can Ctrl+C to copy and eventually paste, or you can also Ctrl+X to cut and eventually paste. Super simple, right? And guess what: it’s the same command to cut and paste text, images, anything really. But no, not on a Mac, not in Finder… So instead, you open up two Finder windows or tabs, and dutifully drag the file from the source to the target destination, moaning the whole time that this is one area where Mac’s are lame. But you get past it because the rest of the ecosystem is so much better, and you move on with your life.

BUT NO MORE! Turns out you CAN cut and paste files on a Mac, and once you understand the mental model behind it, it makes a ton of sense, and is even in some ways more powerful than the traditional Ctrl+X Ctrl+V model. So here goes: Cmd+C to start a copy OR move operation, then Option+Cmd+V to move (read: cut and paste) the file to the destination.

Let’s talk about the different paradigm here, compared to what most of us are used to. Instead of choosing whether to copy or cut first, you choose the operation you want to perform once you’ve selected the file and made it to your destination. For comparison:

(Ever heard the phrase “shoot first and ask questions later?” I guess that’s the Windows approach. ;))

So to recap: to cut-and-paste a file on a Mac, or in other words, to copy-and-move a file on a Mac, you Cmd+C first, navigate to your destination, and Option+Command+V to moVe the file.

It takes a little adjusting of the muscle memory! I even had to stop myself while prepping the media files for this post because I almost dragged a file, but I caught myself and Opt+Cmd+V’ed just in time.

Interestingly, I also discovered during this muscle memory adjustment process that Shift+Opt+Cmd+V will also move the file but with administrator permissions, prompting you to authorize the move as well. Could be handy in those cases where you know you’re going to need to move the files into a protected folder.

Hope that helps!

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