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Below is my take of the three phrasal verbs of cut:

  • cut off a finger means your finger is separated from your hand as if by a kitchen knife while you prepare for dinner.
  • cut up a finger means you’ve already got a human finger, for example, in a lab, and you chop it up into tiny pieces to do experiments on(like what you’d do with onions?)
  • for cut down.. well I feel cut down a finger = cut it off but it doesn’t seem to be right to me? Maybe cut down a finger just doesn’t make any sense and cut down is more used for quantities like cut down in calories?

Btw, if you know of any other phrasal verbs of cut that can be used for fingers don’t hesitate to bring them up!

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    I doubt anyone would chop up a finger to do experiments on it. Really sounds gruesome and completely unscientific. You cut up vegetables for dinner. And you cut down bushes or trees.
    – Lambie
    Commented Dec 23, 2021 at 23:31
  • Normally, you only cut a finger. You could chop a finger off or slice (it) open but nobody says "cut down a finger"
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Dec 24, 2021 at 16:30

3 Answers 3

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  • "Cut off" means to separate one thing from another, either literally as in "cut off a hand" or metaphorically as in "He is cut off from his family." It can also mean "separated" as in "The island is cut off from the peninsula by a strait two miles wide." "Cut off"also means to move quickly and often unsafely in front of soemoen else, often in an automobile. It also means to interrupt someone who is speaking.

  • "Cut up" often means "divided into many pieces". For example "To make a stir-fry one must first cut-up the meat". It can also mean "superficially injured" as in "After the fight, his face was was bruised and cut up." Tt can also mean emotionally distraught, as in "After Judy died, Jim was terribly cut up."

  • "Cut down" can mean "reduced use of" as in "My company has decided to cut down on travel expenses. This use is most often found with "cut down on". It can also mean to reduce the size of something. For example "Sarah wore a dress that has been cut down from one made for Judy." Or "The X67 compact was cut down from a larger design." "Cut down" can also mean to humiliate or belittle. For example: "Jane really cut Mark down when she scolded him for missing the deadline." "Cut down" can also refer to felling a tree, as in "We had to cut down the oak; it was ready to fall."

  • "Cut back" or "cut back on" means "reduce"; it is petty much interchangeable with the "reduce" sense of "cut down (on)".

  • "Cut about" can mean slashed or damaged, similar to some senses of "cut up". This is now old fashioned, but consider Kipling's "Smuggler's Song: "*If your mother mends a coat, all cut about and torn; If the lining's wet and worn, don't you ask no more." On second thought, this is an adjectival phrase, not a verbal noun, but I will leave it in because the form is the same.

  • "Cut in" means to replace another person in a dance. It can also mean to interrupt and join a conversation. It can also mean to join a game of cards, particularly poker.

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"cut off" is separable. So it would normally be "He cut his finger off". This does mean sever it from the hand.

His finger was cut off in a accident with a chain saw.

"cut up a finger" would be very rare. It would mean slice (or dice, or cut irregularly) into small parts (in a kitchen, for example)

I suppose if you had developed a habit if cutting up fingers. And you wanted to do this less often, you could "cut down" on fingers (only cutting up one finger a week). Or even cut finger-slicing out of your life altogether. (these are joke examples!)

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  • Can you say you cut up a finger if you dice it up? Or only when you slice it up?
    – Ray
    Commented Dec 23, 2021 at 22:32
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    Also I saw an example sentence of cut down: "I should cut down my sugar intake". I’m a bit at a loss now cuz im not sure whether I should use in, on, or just no propositions after cut down..
    – Ray
    Commented Dec 23, 2021 at 22:33
  • Dice or slice both mean "cut up"... Cut down my sugar or cut down on my sugar. Both are acceptable.... But not not cut down on my cutting up of fingers. That is weird!
    – James K
    Commented Dec 23, 2021 at 22:38
  • But I think dice up means to cut into cubes, whereas slice up means to cut into thin slices like slice bread? Have I got it wrong for all these years?
    – Ray
    Commented Dec 23, 2021 at 22:43
  • Yes, that is what slice means and what dice means. Cut up is more general, and can mean slice, or dice, or cut irregularly.
    – James K
    Commented Dec 23, 2021 at 23:12
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To "cut down" an integral, movable object like a finger or a piece of wood would be making it shorter. I guess that logic also applies to things like trees or poles, since there is usually a stump remaining. I had never given these phrases much thought, so thank you for the question.

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  • integral, movable object? :)
    – Lambie
    Commented Dec 24, 2021 at 17:13

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