Is there a verb to describe an action that can be either "move" and "copy", but in a single word/phrase?

  • 3
    If you copy a constituent, you leave it behind as well: Him, I can't understand him. But if you move it, you don't leave it behind: Him I can't understand. Copying rules and movement rules are two different kinds of syntactic transformations, with different properties, and they need to be kept separate, not joined together. Unless, of course, you're not talking about English grammar. Sep 22 '14 at 18:56
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    @JohnLawler: I would suspect the OP is looking for a term pertaining to software, not English syntax. But there's probably not enough evidence here to close the question outright on that account.
    – Robusto
    Sep 22 '14 at 20:00
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    @DekeThomas Random House does not define words for standard received English: actual practical usage of words by the speakers of standard received English do. Dictionaries just record the definitions made by the speakers. Sep 22 '14 at 22:48
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    @DekeThomas For what it’s worth, here is how some other publishers record its meaning: “A word with a broad meaning constituting a category into which words with more specific meanings fall” (ODO); “a word the meaning of which includes the meaning of another word or words” (Collins = superordinate (3)); “A word whose meaning includes the meaning of a more specific word” (AHD), etc. Sep 22 '14 at 22:52
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    @Raestloz: that's true if you're moving between different filesystems. Generally within a single filesystem it is possible to move a file, although the operation is more intuitively referred to as "rename". Sep 23 '14 at 8:00

11 Answers 11


I'm going to stick my neck out and say the answer is No. There is no word which can be used for both move and copy.

Synonyms for move like migrate, relocate, transfer, shift and even ship all involve a real move, where the object appears in a new location and disappears from its origin.

Synonyms for copy like duplicate, reproduce, clone all produce an additional item, leaving the original intact and in place.

There is no word which is ambiguous about whether the original version still exists or not after the operation.

  • 1
    Thank God for people who can say "No" on SWRs
    – Fattie
    Sep 23 '14 at 8:10

You could use a vague word like transfer, but I don't recommend it. Transfer usually means "move" (as in transferring money), but sometimes means "copy" (as in transferring ink).

  • 1
    The File Transfer Protocol doesn't (Edit: automatically) involve deleting the source file as it's transferred.
    – Tim S.
    Sep 23 '14 at 0:10
  • @TimS. It is definitely possible to do all kinds of file operations over FTP, including copying, renaming, and deleting. Sep 23 '14 at 0:14
  • @200_success "Moving" in FTP is two operations; a copy and then a source delete by whatever FTP client you're using. Sep 23 '14 at 2:38
  • I agree that transfer in a computer context does not imply that the original is always destroyed.
    – Gabe
    Sep 23 '14 at 4:18
  • I've used transfer for this too. I think it's a reasonable choice even though it's not perfect.
    – user541686
    Sep 23 '14 at 5:18

If you're talking about the tasks of copying and/or moving text or code on the computer, they are "commands" usually found in the "Edit" menu of a word processing application - or they can be referred to as "keyboard shortcuts" or just "actions".

Any of those three choices might be suitable for a hypernym for both "move" and "copy".

  • That seems overly broad, since it also includes Print, Save, and lots of other things that have little to do with copying.
    – Barmar
    Sep 22 '14 at 19:48
  • I agree @Barmar, but since "move" and "copy" are not alike except for falling under the category of "actions", "keyboard shortcuts" or "commands", that I know of, a broader word would have to be used, wouldn't it? Sep 22 '14 at 20:21
  • They're alike in that they move something from here to there. The only difference is whether the original is removed or not at the same time.
    – Barmar
    Sep 22 '14 at 20:22
  • They're not keyboard shortcuts, that refers to typing a single keystroke instead of selecting something from a menu, and is independent of the specific category of command.
    – Barmar
    Sep 22 '14 at 20:24
  • @Barmar - if you're strictly talking text commands, no, there is not a keyboard shortcut, but there are keyboard shortcuts to move windows. I don't have any more specific context from OP so my answer covers a few possibilities. Sep 22 '14 at 20:34

Presuming a computer theme—such as moving or copying files on disk—you could go with something more generic still such as organize or structure (or restructure). However, these both suggest more than just move and copy and could include delete and sort as well. For the narrower scope, I echo the sentiment of others.

  • Presuming a computer theme indeed! it's staggering nobody has suggested "functions". For example when one clicks a menu ... perhaps the "file" menu, let's say! ... you then see the "functions" for that category.
    – Fattie
    Sep 23 '14 at 8:21

"Paste" can mean move or copy depending on whether it was preceded by copy or cut.


Assuming you're in a computing domain, the C++ standard uses "move" as a hypernym of "move" and "copy". Or actually it uses "move assignment", "copy assignment, "move initialization", "copy initialization", but C++ programmers use "move" and "copy" as both verb and noun to refer to these.

This may sound absurd, but it's quite natural given the technical definitions in the C++ domain. Specifically:

"move" - initializes or assigns a duplicate of the original in a destination location. The state of the original afterwards is not specified.

"copy" - initializes or assigns a duplicate of the original in a destination location. The original is unchanged.

Therefore a copy satisfies the requirements for a move, it is a kind of move. If you attempt to move an object that doesn't have any explicitly defined behaviour for moves, it is copied.

Of course, this only works because of the non-standard use of the word "move" in the domain. In everyday English, "move" does guarantee the final state of the original location, and the object will not be there.



The act of moving by copying. Or is it copying by moving? I'm not quite sure.


Your question appears unclear, but assuming you are not talking about Software related terms, here's a possibility:

If you are copying somebody's movement you could be described as mirroring them.

He mirrored the dance instructors movement to his best ability


I would recommend:

  • shift - To move from one place to another; to redistribute.
  • cast - To move, or be moved, away.



Though the context is not clear, I would suggest the word replicate as hypernym of copy. Especially, in "software" context replicate may contain both senses - "copy" and/or "move" e.g:

Data(base) replication

Surely you're just talking about functions which is a hypernym for "any boring shit you can do with computers".

Thus, "< any topic in computing > functions".

Eg https://developer.apple.com/library/mac/documentation/Cocoa/Reference/Foundation/Classes/NSFileManager_Class/Reference/Reference.html

or google "file handling functions" "file functions" etc.

enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here

(It is Surprising nobody has pointed this out?)

Consider also actions or operations, already suggested.

Can this site ban questions about the use of words relating to computers, or at least require that

the OP states clearly the topic is I'm trying to find a word to use in my "U X" ...?

It's hateful when you get "XY problems" or "goalpost moving" on this site Single word, or good words/phrase for "confusingly asked question where meaning changes."

And it's triply, recursively, hateful when it involves what's the best word! for drop down menu, etc

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