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I am writing a mobile application that will, as a part of its functionality, display a list of recorded thoughts. Now I am deciding the textual content of the menus and that left me thinking whether there is a logical difference between words remove and delete. Which one is more appropriate when speaking about taking an item off the list? I guess remove is, but why?

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closed as general reference by Mehper C. Palavuzlar, simchona, Jeff Atwood Dec 22 '11 at 7:26

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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General reference works are often poor at helping readers distinguish between fine shades of meaning. In addition, the number of upvotes indicates that this question holds clear value for the community. It should be reopened. –  phenry Jan 31 at 22:16

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up vote 49 down vote accepted

Delete and remove are defined quite similarly, but the main difference between them is that delete means erase (i.e. rendered nonexistent or nonrecoverable), while remove connotes take away and set aside (but kept in existence).

In your example, if the item is existent after the removal, just say remove, but if it ceases to exist, say delete.

As a side note: delete is sometimes used of computer files to mean move to trash/recycle bin (hence it is still recoverable), but that's not a standard meaning outside of that context.

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Thank you. Since I am removing item for good, I am going to use delete as a menu item word. –  Maxim V. Pavlov Dec 21 '11 at 21:44
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I use the excellent foobar2000 to look after my pc-based music library. Mostly because of its almost limitless configurability, but a major pluspoint is Foobar lets me have lots of customised "playlists". Any given track only "physically?" exists in one location on my hard drives, but it may appear in several playlists. Foobar has a "File operations" submenu where you can "really, permanently" Delete a track, but if you change your mind about having it in a particular playlist, that option is called Remove. That makes a lot of sense to me. –  FumbleFingers Dec 21 '11 at 22:51
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I had it kind of backwards considering that in computing, there is a notion of undelete but no unremove, i.e. deletion can be undone but removal cannot. To me, remove meant to physically move sth. away from access (make it eventually inaccessible) and delete would mean to make sth.logically inaccessible. OTOH, removing could be undone, like removing a plate from a table. Guess it's ambiguous like synchronous (1. concurrent or 2. serial execution, respectively) & asynchronous in computing ? Synchronous: 1) at the same time, in parallel; 2) synchronized, serialized. –  Archimedix Feb 5 at 15:03

They are very similar, but the way I would make the distinction here is based on what the action does, and on the item being removed/deleted from the list.

If the item will continue to exist outside the list, I would recommend "remove", as it is being removed from the list, but the item itself is not deleted.

If the item will no longer exist, then "remove" and "delete" are essentially equivalent, although "delete" may be a bit clearer, since the user is deleting the item.

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You can remove something from a collection (eg a file from a project, a folder from a library) without deleting it. If the item in question has no life outside your collection (eg a paragraph from a word document) then there's no difference between remove and delete. But if it has such a life (eg an image file in an HTML page) then remove and delete could be different. Delete is stronger - not only stop including it in my collection to it, linking to it, whatever, but also delete it from wherever it lives.

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+1 Just what I was getting at, but better said. –  Jim Dec 21 '11 at 20:32

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