Choose cut, cut off or cut out for each figure.

enter image description here

I refered to the Macmillan dictionary for a full list of usages, and found this:

  • Cut (into more than 2 pieces, in 0.5 or 2 pieces, cut hair,...)
  • Cut out for cutting a piece from large object (article from magazine)
  • Cut off to split to remove (cut off your arm)

However I am still confused regarding the figures in question.

I suspect it should be:

  1. Cut (because we split it into two)
  2. Cut out (because we cut out a large circle)
  3. Cut off (because it was a small piece from the end)

Can someone give a better explanation?

  • 6
    Oh, my. This is a very badly composed question. The choices don't apply to the pictures, but to various parts of the picture, which are not identified, or even present in some cases. Depending on what the substances are, all three choices could be used for all three pictures, in different contexts. Perhaps the author trained by writing instruction manuals for Ikea. Mar 18, 2016 at 19:40
  • @JohnLawler I'm glad to see you back on the site, John.
    – Dan Bron
    Mar 18, 2016 at 19:41
  • the circle is the removed part from the second pane , the small cut at the top of the third and the first was a single sheet split into two. Regarding the substances part, I don't know either that's how it's written in my book
    – J3oy Kill
    Mar 18, 2016 at 19:44
  • (This is an off-topic remark, but: English does not put white spaces before question marks, or inside parentheses. French does that, but English does not. In fact, most languages don't.)
    – ЯegDwight
    Mar 18, 2016 at 19:48
  • 1
    Be aware that when a saw runs through a board, the board has been cut, one end has been cut off, and the kerf has been cut out (leaving saw dust)- all at the same time!
    – cobaltduck
    Mar 18, 2016 at 19:55

2 Answers 2


The three definitions overlap substantially, but usage of the three differ by context.

Let's put the three words into full sentences:

  1. This piece of paper was cut.
  2. This shape was cut out from the page.
  3. A corner of the page was cut off.

Sentence 1 just means that a sharp tool was applied to the paper, causing one or more incisions. (E.g. a rectangular piece of paper can be cut into the shape of a star, an apple can be cut into quarters.) There is often an expectation that the cut starts from an external part of the original unless the phrase is expanded to cut out. You can say that the left and right figures were cut; a weaker case can be made for the middle figure.

Sentence 2 indicates the relationship between the shape and its 'parent' page. The word "out" gives the phrase "cut out" the notion that the shape was cut from the page's interior region. This closely matches the middle figure.

Sentence 3 stresses the break in connection between the corner and the page. "Cut off" normally refers to the removal of a protruding section. This matches the figure on the left best.

  • One day I heard something like "I cut the tops off the carrots" instead of "I cut the tops off of the carrots". Is there a unwritten rule or something like that? Dec 21, 2020 at 4:54
  • 1
    @Elborito Although the “off of” version isn’t unknown, the bare “off” version comes across as cleaner English.
    – Lawrence
    Dec 21, 2020 at 10:20

As you suspect, the second image has a circle "cut out." To "cut out" means "to remove a piece from inside of something using cutting." The grammatical object of the verb "cut out" is the piece that is removed.

The first one has the end "cut off" (which means "to remove a piece from an end or an edge of something using cutting"). So it seems to me that by elimination, the last one must be meant to represent "cut." The grammatical object of the verb "cut off" is the piece that is removed.

Unfortunately, Macmillan dictionary doesn't seem to provide a complete definition of "cut" here: http://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/british/cut_1

The most relevant definition I can see is 3:

[TRANSITIVE] to injure a part of your body with something sharp that cuts the skin

In fact, "cut" can also be used to refer to a knife, pair of scissors or other sharp tool making a mark on anything (such as the rectangle in the figure), not just a part of the body, without separating it into more than two pieces. This distinguishes it from "cut off," which always implies separation (it's much less serious if I "cut my finger" than if I "cut off my finger"). The grammatical object of the verb in this sense is not a piece, but the entire original thing.

It's not just limited to body parts: if you do a Google search for "cut a piece of paper" you get images like the following:

enter image description here Therefore, we can say that the third figure is of a rectangle that has been cut. It's not a very good image, but the artist seems to be trying to depict the result of taking a pair of scissors and closing them partway around the rectangle.

  • Your choices are correct. Same as the book appendix solutions.
    – J3oy Kill
    Mar 18, 2016 at 20:27
  • But what does cut out implies ?
    – J3oy Kill
    Mar 18, 2016 at 20:28

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