Knowing how to copy and paste various types of content on Windows 10 increases your efficiency and saves precious time. The concepts behind these actions apply to nearly every application you’ll ever use on your PC.
Most PC users with basic knowledge know how to perform a copy-and-paste action using the right click of their mouse. However, more tech-savvy users acknowledge the convenience of keyboard shortcuts and various copy-and-paste options implemented in Windows.
In this article, we’ll discuss various methods you can use to copy and paste various types of content into Windows OS. We’ll touch upon the basics, as well as more advanced options, the difference between copying and cutting, and what exactly the Clipboard is. So, without further ado, let’s dive in.
Copy and Paste Using the Mouse
Copying and pasting various items within the Windows OS is most commonly done using your mouse’s right click. You simply right-click the item, copy it, and paste it into another location. The principle is actually applicable to various software, Windows Explorer, Desktop, and every other instance in which Copy and Paste are executable commands. Here’s an example of how it’s done:
Step 1: Select the Items
In this example, we’ll use test files specifically made for the purpose of this guide. Please note that these actions apply to all selected items. To select a file, simply click on it with your left mouse button.
Additionally, you can press the Shift key on your keyboard and use the directional arrow keys to select multiple items (files or text). The alternative is to click and drag a selection box over several items to select them.
If the items you want to copy aren’t in a row, you can still select them using the Ctrl key. Hold down the Ctrl key while clicking each file or folder you want to select. This option also applies to text, though it can be used for paragraph selection only.
Step 2: Copy the Items
Once you’ve selected the items you want to copy, click on them using your right mouse button (right-click). This will open up a context menu with a list of executable commands. Simply click Copy, and Windows will copy said items to the Clipboard — we’ll discuss the Clipboard in the later section of this guide.
Step 3: Paste the Items
To paste the precious copied items, go to the target destination—the destination in which you want to paste the items. This could be another software, like an image editor or a word processor (if you copied text). For files and folders, it’s best to use File Explorer to navigate to your destination path.
Once you’ve navigated to the location where you’d like to put the files, open up the context menu by using your right mouse button. The destination can be inside a File Explorer window, on the desktop, inside a word processor, or another type of program.
Open up the context menu by right-clicking the destination and selecting Paste to paste the previously copied files. Depending on the item’s size, Windows may take more time to copy the file from one destination to another.
Copy and Paste Using the Keyboard
Using the mouse to copy and paste in Windows is actually a more time-consuming process. And while, admittedly, it only takes a few seconds to select the appropriate command from the context menu, those seconds add up during the work day—the accumulation of marginal losses is the enemy of efficiency.
Luckily, we have keyboard shortcuts that replace complex manual command selections. Here’s how to perform copy and paste commands using keyboard shortcuts.
Step 1: Select the Items
This step is the same as with the previous method. Simply select the items you want to, regardless of whether we’re discussing files, folders, or some other items. Selecting multiple items is also the same, regardless of the method.
Step 2: Copy the Items
Once you’ve selected the desired items you want to copy, instead of using your mouse, turn your attention towards your keyboard. To copy the desired items (files, folders, etc.), press the Ctrl + C combination on your keyboard. This is known as the Copy shortcut, and it’s applicable in nearly all environments within Windows or third-party software.
If you have never used keyboard shortcuts, just use the pinky of your left hand to hold down the Ctrl key and use your index finger to tap the C key on your keyboard. You can safely let go of the Ctrl key; the items are already copied to Windows Clipboard.
Step 3: Paste the Items
Similar to the previous method, navigate to the location where you’d like to put the previously copied items. However, instead of right-clicking, you can simply focus on the File Explorer window, desktop, or third-party software.
Once focused (as an active window), simply press Ctrl + V combination on your keyboard to paste the previously copied items. The Ctrl + V combination is known as the Paste shortcut, and it’s applicable in nearly all environments within the Windows OS.
Copy and Paste Using Drag-and-Drop
The easiest way to copy files and folders in Windows is to use the drag-and-drop function. Simply click the item and hold your mouse to drag the selected item to the destination folder. However, the function either copies or moves the selected item, depending on the OS environment or the software it’s being used in.
Thus, the two aforementioned methods remain the two most widely-used ways people copy and paste items on their computers.
The Clipboard Method
Whenever you copy or cut an item, Windows temporarily stores the item data in a temporary memory location called the Clipboard. When you paste the information, the OS will retrieve it from the Clipboard and put it into a specified location.
The OS will keep the copied/cut item in the Clipboard until you either copy/cut another item or restart the PC. This means that the Clipboard memory can store only one item at a time. However, you can expand Clipboard’s functionality with an opt-in feature called Clipboard History.
This allows you to copy/cut several different items and paste them individually into their specific locations. Here’s how to copy and paste using the Clipboard:
Step 1: Enable Clipboard History
The Clipboard is an OS feature that’s enabled by default. However, for the purpose of this guide, we’ll enable Clipboard History to use the full extent of its capabilities.
To enable Clipboard History, click Start to open the Start Menu, and then click the Settings icon — a small gear located in the bottom left corner. Next, go to System, and choose Clipboard from the left-side pane to open the Clipboard Settings.
There should be a toggle switch that enables the Clipboard History option — turn it on. Additionally, if you’re using Windows across several devices, you can sync your Clipboard across all of them by enabling the appropriate option.
Step 2: Select and Copy Items
Select and copy the desired items using any of the methods described above. You can copy several items at once or individually using the context menu commands or the keyboard shortcuts. Whatever you copy (or cut) will be transferred to the Clipboard.
Step 3: Paste the Items
Thanks to the Clipboard History option being enabled, the Clipboard can now hold more than one item at a time. This allows users to select which previously copied/cut items they want to paste into specific locations.
It’s a pretty neat feature; however, it only works using the Clipboard History keyboard shortcut. To open the clipboard history and select the times you want to paste, simply press the Win + V key combination on your keyboard. Once the Clipboard History opens, you can select the desired items you want to paste.
The Difference Between Copy and Cut
Both Copy and Paste are inter-process communication techniques used to transfer data through the computer’s interface. However, while the Copy command creates a duplicate of the selected file, Cut removes the file from its original position. In both cases, the selected item is transferred to the Clipboard before it’s pasted to a specified destination.
When the Paste command is issued, Windows will move the file to the user-specified destination. Depending on whether the item was copied or cut, the OS will either create a duplicate of the file or move the file entirely.
Cutting and pasting items using your mouse is done in the same way as copying and pasting. Just click the selected items using the right mouse button, and select Cut. You can use the Cut shortcut on your keyboard by pressing the Ctrl + X key combination. To paste the previously cut information, simply use the context menu command or the Ctrl + V key combination on your keyboard.
How To Copy and Paste On Windows: 5 Must-Know Facts
- The term “cut and paste” originates from a manuscript editing practice. The editor would cut paragraphs from one page and paste them onto another. The practice remained in use until the 1980s.
- The earliest text editors — teleprinter terminals — provided keyboard commands to delineate text segments for deletion or moving. Some text editors even used a temporary location for text storage for later retrieval.
- 1983’s Apple Lisa was the first text editing system to call that temporary location “the clipboard.” It was also among the first operating systems to use a graphical user interface.
- Apple Lisa and Macintosh were the first OS to use keyboard shortcuts or cut, copy, and paste commands. In fact, Apple Computer suggested using the Command key (Control for Windows) as a key modifier. The more specific commands were then delegated to X for cut, C for Copy, and V for paste.
- Early versions of Windows used the IBM Common User Access standard, but Microsoft later adopted the Apple key combination.
How To Copy and Paste On Windows: Final Words
Knowing how to copy and paste on Windows is one of the crucial skills for anyone working on a PC. Using keyboard shortcuts — one of the methods described in this guide — will certainly help you perform tasks more efficiently.