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This weekend I mowed the yard. My neighbor says he cut the grass. Did I cut the grass, or maybe I mowed the lawn, or did I cut the yard?

When does one mow, and when does one cut? Is it grass, or yard, or lawn?

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I cut my yard up the other day. But I mowed the grass down along with my friend. –  Thursagen Jul 12 '11 at 0:37
    
In Australia we say "mow the lawn", but in Malaysia the literal translation from the local language is "cut the grass". –  user43235 Apr 25 '13 at 21:39

5 Answers 5

up vote 3 down vote accepted

"Mow the lawn", "cut the grass", and "mow the yard" are all basically describing the same thing, though I'd say "mow the yard" is more common in US English and the other two in British English. The only one that sounds wrong is the fourth; I've not heard the phrase "cut the yard" used before.

I'd say you can mow and cut the grass, mow the yard, and mow the lawn.

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If "mow the yard" is US usage, it's one I've not encountered before. In my experience, one cuts the grass, but mows the lawn. No, it doesn't make sense, but such is idiom. –  Marthaª Jul 11 '11 at 22:44
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In British English, nobody would expect a yard to have grass. –  Henry Jul 11 '11 at 22:55
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@Martha -- "mow the grass" isn't unheard of, but it's kind of redundant (what else would you mow?) @Henry, what do you have in your yard? (Or is "yard" in American English exactly a "garden" in British English, where a "yard" might be a "square" or a "quad"?) –  Malvolio Jul 11 '11 at 23:15
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@Malvolio: In the UK, a yard is a paved area, most often found in institutions such as schools. –  Colin Fine Jul 11 '11 at 23:43
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@Malvolio: "mow the grass" may be redundant, but "mow" is a transitive verb that to me sounds funny without an object. I wouldn't say "I'm going to mow this morning." And all the reasonable objects you can use -- the grass, the yard, the lawn -- are equally redundant. –  Peter Shor Jul 18 '11 at 20:58

In a survey of 10553 respondents in the United States, the favoured expressions were:

mow the lawn         66.79%
cut the grass        18.38%
mow the grass         5.75%
cut the lawn          0.64%
other                 8.43%

Geographically, most areas favoured mow the lawn

mow the lawn

but cut the grass was preferred in a few localities, mostly southern states.

cut the grass

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Oh my goodness, where do you find information for such an obscure question? –  karan.dodia Jul 18 '11 at 20:57
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@kpsfire I remembered the survey from a question I asked about positive anymore. Amazing the minutiae that serious linguists devote themselves to... I do love it though! –  z7sg Ѫ Jul 18 '11 at 21:10
    
+1 for an excellent source. And this explains why cut the grass and mow the lawn are the only two that sound right to me, a lifelong Mid-Atlantic resident. –  sarah Dec 1 '11 at 5:35

Mow means (or usually means) specifically to cut down (grass) with a machine. You could say "this weekend I did the mowing", with the understanding that you cut grass with a tool of some description.

As touched on above, lawn is simply regularly mown grass. You could expect a yard (or similar) to be regularly tended to, and thus contain lawn. In my experience saying cut the grass carries the connotation that what's there could hardly be referred to as lawn (possibly with a haughty raise of the nose).

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"Mowing the lawn" is universally understood in American parlance. It refers to the action of cutting wide swaths or a large area of grass (the lawn) using a machine. "Cutting the grass" is also well-understood, and refers to the same action, optionally with the additional steps of trimming and edging (which also cut the grass, but are more precise than the connotation of "mowing" indicates).

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In Britain, a lawn would generally be a well-kept area of domestic grass. You'd probably not describe an overgrown or partly bare area of domestic grass as a lawn except with a note or irony.

"Mow" can have a rather agricultural feel to it, so "mow the grass" is perhaps more what a farmer might do.

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protected by J.R. Apr 26 '13 at 8:41

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