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I have two questions:

  1. Relating to the usage of the word 'overtake'. Is this word common in colloquial English? If I say 'I overtook the truck in front of me', does this sound unnatural or very formal to the native speakers? The idea here is to just pass a vehicle ahead of you as opposed to cutting it off.

  2. Talking of 'cutting off' or simply 'cut' , does the phrase/word only mean to abruptly get in front of a vehicle? Or is it interchangeable with pass?

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"Overtake" is the common verb in British English. It is used both literally (move to the [right]-hand lane, accelerate and drive past, move back to the [left]-hand lane) and figuratively.

I overtook the lorry.

Peter has overtaken his sister in maths.

Cutting off or "cutting up" implies suddenly moving into a lane, causing another car to have to avoid you. It is potentially dangerous, and has a negative connotation. It may not be part of an overtaking manoeuvre.

What can you do when a driver cuts you off?

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  • I managed to get a lot of Britishisms into that answer.
    – James K
    Commented Oct 20, 2021 at 5:49
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    A lot of UK people say that someone 'cut them up' when someone suddenly moves in front of them. Commented Oct 20, 2021 at 6:46
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  1. Yes, "overtake" is reasonably colloquial (at least here in the U.S.) but I think "pass" is more common. "Overtake" and "pass" are generally used to mean the same thing in the context of driving - i.e., to accelerate and go past a vehicle. However, to "pass" a vehicle sometimes implies moving out from behind the vehicle, going ahead of the vehicle, and then moving back into the same lane but now in front of the vehicle. "Overtake" does not necessarily have this implication for me - I feel it is more commonly used when you start out in a different lane from the vehicle you go past, so doesn't require any lane switching - but I'd welcome other views, and I don't feel strongly about the distinction.

  2. "Cutting off" (in the U.S.) does, as you suggest, mean abruptly getting in front of a vehicle. It's usually reserved for when someone does this in a rude, unexpected and potentially dangerous way. So, it's not synonymous with "pass", and you can't just say "cut" or "cutting" - you have to add "off".

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  1. In terms of motorvehicle traffic, overtake/overtook is very common in British, Australian, and NZ English. In the sense of one vehicle moving faster than another vehicle, it is fully interchangeable with pass.

    Overtake would not be interchangeable pass in the sense of "pass a house" because houses are usually stationary. We might say a train passed us on our left if we were driving parallel to a railway but we probably wouldn't say the train overtook us unless we were in a race with it.

  2. Cut off is not synonymous with pass. Overtaking is normal and neutral. Cutting off doesn't even have to involve overtaking (like you say to cut is abruptly get in the path of another vehicle, which could happen when a slow vehicle already of you in front changes lane) is an antisocial action and may constitute a traffic offense.

    Cut off isn't synonmymous with cut and we would never just say "cut" for traffic. Cut can be used as cut in as in "someone cut in front of me" which could be in fast moving traffic or in a stop/start traffic queue when a gap opens in front. Again, widely regarded as antisocial and since many jurisdictions have a minimum amount of time a turn indicator must be activated it could also be a traffic offense.

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  • I would happily say that a train overtook me if it was travelling in the same direction at a higher speed. No suggestion of racing. Commented Oct 20, 2021 at 6:48

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