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To make a box, you might fold the box like the above pictures and then glue the flaps together to form the shame of a box

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But if the paper is hard enough, we don't even glue the flaps, but just tuck the flaps together.

Now I want to make a box flat.

If the box is folded and its flaps was glued, is it correct to say "unglue the box to make it flat"?

If the box is folded only without its flaps glued, is it correct to say "unfold the box to make it flat"?

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We usually just call this "flattening" the box, whatever its construction might be.

You can specify unfolding of you want. This also works if it's glued — the action of unfolding should involve pulling the glue apart.

If you want to refer to the actual action of defeating the glue bond, I would hesitate to use "unglue". As a native speaker, I struggle to assign a concrete meaning to this verb.

We do say "come unglued" (i.e. the glue fails), but it would be awkward to use that in the causative: "Make it come unglued."

So instead I would probably describe the physical step taken: "Pull/pry it apart" or "Cut through the glue" or however you get it unglued.

If you have to actually tear or seperate any pieces, I would call it "breaking down" (in addition to flattening).

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  • But you can flatten a box without unfolding it right?
    – Tom
    Sep 1, 2022 at 4:51
  • You might squash it flat. I would call unfolding it 'flattening it out'. Sep 1, 2022 at 9:35
  • @KateBunting Good to know. Both ring very British to me! Sep 1, 2022 at 11:30
  • @Tom Depends how flat you want it :) Typically it implies undoing any "joints", because those will bulge and prevent neat folds when storing them... But for home use I often find "flatten" interpreted as leaving one or two hinges, as long as it becomes roughly two-dimensional so it can fit in the recycling collection box... Sep 1, 2022 at 11:33
  • Merriam-Webster defines unglue as "to separate by or as if by dissolving an adhesive" which is a lot more specific than the OP's meaning.
    – Stuart F
    Sep 1, 2022 at 16:35
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At least in AME the typical phrasing is "break down the box", regardless of whether the box had been glued or not.

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