Here is a quote from a certain movie :

"He cut out his own arm."

And now I really want to understand what is the difference between them below.

I mean what kind of nuances has each of them? They all sound fine and natural to you who is English-native speaker?

A) He cut his own arm.

B) He cut out his own arm.

C) He cut off his own arm.

  • 2
    This is an unusual phrasing; some more context would help.
    – chapka
    Apr 21, 2014 at 15:13
  • Okay, here is more context : There was a woman. She was hiding with her baby. And some men with knives came. They killed her and they took her baby. And then an old man...no relation, just...an old man. He stepped forward and he said, "Give me the knife." And everyone thought he'd kill the baby himself. But he took the knife...and he cut out his own arm..."Eat this. If you're so hungry eat this. Just leave the baby." Do you think "cut out" in this makes sense?
    – Bunch Son
    Apr 21, 2014 at 15:23
  • 2
    No, "cut out" does not work there, only "cut off" would make sense.
    – Hellion
    Apr 21, 2014 at 15:32
  • (And when I say "make sense" I mean strictly from a grammatical perspective; they already have a dead mother to eat, why would they need to eat the baby or an old man's arm? And nobody would really just hack off their own arm and then say 'eat this', they'd probably be rolling and screaming in pain and/or shock. And you can't cut off your own arm with "a knife", you'd need an axe or cleaver or other much larger tool.)
    – Hellion
    Apr 21, 2014 at 15:34
  • 1
    Yes, "cut off" really is the only thing that fits there; either it's a scriptwriter's mistake or a mis-reporting of the correct line.
    – Hellion
    Apr 21, 2014 at 16:22

5 Answers 5


To cut, as you already know, is generally 'to slice with a sharp object'; if you "cut your own arm", you take a knife and make an incision somewhere on your arm.

To cut out is probably, in this case, 'to free from entrapment by cutting the trapping material'. If you "cut out your own arm", then somehow one arm is trapped, perhaps under a fallen log, and you use your other arm to cut the log until you can get your first arm free. (This usage seems very unlikely.)

The most common use of cut out is 'to shape an item by cutting a larger element'; for instance, if I have a piece of paper, I could 'cut out a paper doll'.

To cut off is to sever or detach; if you "cut off your own arm", then either you no longer have an arm, or you need major surgery to get it re-attached.

  • Thank you for instruction and I definitely agree with your thinking on that situation from the contenxt. I think the story is entirely unrealistic. But just one, they were to take the baby instead of dead mother beacuse it's said that babies taste best in this horrible movie. You said "cut out" doesn't work there, then it's maybe scriptwriter's mistake or something? Does "cut off" work best?
    – Bunch Son
    Apr 21, 2014 at 15:54
  • I would say cut off, if you are talking about removing his arm, yes. If we were removing a tumor from the arm, we would cut it out.
    – BobRodes
    Apr 21, 2014 at 20:38
  • A few more: We also say "Cut it out!" when we want someone (especially a child or children) to stop doing something. For example, if two brothers ages 8 and 10 started throwing butter at each other at the dinner table, they would probably be told very quickly to cut it out. Next, you can cut someone out of your will, cut someone out of the crowd, or have your work cut out for you. If you cut someone off, it can mean to interfere with his progress in a direction. It can also mean to stop socializing with him.
    – BobRodes
    Apr 21, 2014 at 20:38
  • Can "cut out" be used in context of a tongue? As in "I will cut out your tongue if you don't keep silent".
    – user55684
    May 21, 2017 at 22:25
  • 1
    @zindarod yes, that would be a relatively idiomatic threat.
    – Hellion
    May 21, 2017 at 22:32

He cut his own arm.

Pretty simple. Ian took a knife and made a cut on his arm.

He cut out his own arm.

This really don't make sense as your arm is not in anything to begin with. There are some very specific and uncommon circumstances where this could make sense though.

He cut off his own arm.

Ian was trapped by a boulder so he cut off his own arm to escape.

  • Agreed. As an example for the second sentence, it could possibly be used with a discussion of a picture or a leech, etc. "He cut out his own arm from the picture to hide his tattoos," or "In order to remove the leech, he cut out of his own arm" but "own" wouldn't really be necessary
    – dev_feed
    Apr 21, 2014 at 23:58

In my opinion, the phrase is incorrect, as it doesnt make sense. "Cut off" makes a lot more sense in this example, as does "cut out a piece of."

Cut is an interesting word. Cut is an auto-antonym. In short, the word has multiple meanings, with one of them meaning the opposite definition of the other. Cut can mean "cut in", like we cut him in the deal. Or it can mean the opposite, as in cut him out of the deal.


Out of context, this sentence does not sound grammatical.

Taken in context, that the man cut his arm to feed the baby, this phrasing does make sense because it adds emphasis to the arm itself rather than the man who is cutting off his arm. Cut out draws attention to the object being removed; cut off draws attention to the object that is being cut. For instance:

  1. She cut his hair off.
  2. He cut out the star pattern.

In the first, whatever happened to the hair doesn't matter; all we care about is that it's now gone. In the second, what was cut out has meaning. It isn't just thrown away.

Hope this helps!


It seems to me that the autor wanted to say that the man cut a piece OUT of his own arm, and not cut the entire arm OFF. It makes sense, given the context provided.

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