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?

  • 11
    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
    Commented Jan 31, 2014 at 22:16

3 Answers 3


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.

  • 2
    Thank you. Since I am removing item for good, I am going to use delete as a menu item word. Commented Dec 21, 2011 at 21:44
  • 10
    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. Commented Dec 21, 2011 at 22:51
  • 1
    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.
    – Arc
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 15:03
  • I think the "delete" operation of modern OSes is a historical reason before the "trash" thing. i.e MS-DOS didn't have this 2-step" remove->deletion of files. it was only delete from the FAT, but it was possibly undelete because the raw data on the disk were not already overwritten (it's still true today with modern OSes). In modern OSes now is just a 2-phase "delete", 1.remove (move to trash/ prepare for deletion); 2. physically delete from the file system. It's still valid the undelete operation until the physical sector of disk are not overwritten.
    – Raffaello
    Commented Dec 17, 2014 at 13:08
  • 2
    The first sentence of this post is essentially identical to the one at labor.ny.gov/ux/design-remove-vs-delete.html. I trust you have authored the text at ny.gov, and that it isn't a case of plagiarism? Commented Apr 6, 2019 at 9:12

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.


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.

  • +1 Just what I was getting at, but better said.
    – yoozer8
    Commented Dec 21, 2011 at 20:32

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.