Why was the Ctrl + C key sequence selected for copying text, however Ctrl + P was not selected for paste in Windows?

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    You mean Vaste right? – blankip Nov 12 '15 at 6:56
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    In addition to existing answers - Ctrl + P is also the universal shortcut for Print. You'd need to have a non-intuitive print shortcut, and in that scenario you may well have ended up asking why Print is not Ctrl + P. – Mike Baxter Nov 12 '15 at 9:30
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    If you really want to use separate hands for copying and pasting, you can use Ctrl + C for copying and Shift + Insert for pasting. I sometimes use the latter for pasting when I'm not using a mouse, and it's even easier to do with the right hand than right Ctrl + P. – vsz Nov 12 '15 at 10:07
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    Incidentally, I note this question says "selected ... in Windows"; I was under the impression that the X / C / V scheme originated on early versions of MacOS. MS-DOS (and therefore, I would expect, early Windows) programs used Shift-Delete / Ctrl-Insert / Shift-Insert, which is often still available as an alternative. – IMSoP Nov 12 '15 at 11:01
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    If the day ever comes that pasting something is Ctrl+P then I will hunt down the creator. When programming, 99% of the time I will need to copy something from line #4 and paste it on line #s 35, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 495, 856, 1298, and 3495; this also includes miscellaneous copy+pasting in between. So if were forced to let go of my mouse for every paste operation to sniper that P key then I would not be a happy programmer. What would print be, Ctrl+PP? – MonkeyZeus Nov 12 '15 at 13:50

Notice that C-copy, X-cut and V-paste are next to each other on the keyboard. Also they are very close to the ctrl key. if a user copied something to the clipboard, the next most probable action would be pasting what was copied. So compared to P, while it makes sense as a language, but from a HCI perspective. it'll be easier on the hand and fingers to go for ctrl+V

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    Imagine if undo was Ctrl+U. It's easy enough with two hands, but if you had one on your mouse, it's a stretch for those with smaller hands. – Jung Lee Nov 12 '15 at 6:29
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    @JungLee Welcome to the world of QWERTZ keyboard users, where [Y] and [Z] are switched around... – F.P Nov 12 '15 at 8:28
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    Or Dvorak to a greater extent. – John Dvorak Nov 12 '15 at 12:52
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    And V sort of kind of looks like the tip of a glue container, pointing down. Sort of. – Kroltan Nov 12 '15 at 13:29
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    @Kroltan this is false. the V is clearly the open jaws of a pair of scissors, and the C is the blunt end of a well-used eraser. V should be cut, C delete, and X to find the treasure. – jammypeach Nov 12 '15 at 17:05

The whole hotkeys issue is a good example of the "intuitiveness vs efficiency/ease of use" trade-off. Yes, it would be very nice to have all our actions mapped to a key that begins with the first letter of the actions. It would be intuitive and easy to remember.


  • Many actions have the same first letter. Of course you can then switch to the second, or another "representative" letter, but the deeper you get, the less intuitive and memorable it becomes.
  • While it's possible that the above can be managed within a specific app (if it's small enough), it becomes impossible once you take into account that you're often using a number of apps at the same time. For instance, you're in Gmail which has some hotkeys, but it's running in a browser, which has its own hotkeys, and the browser is running on an OS with a different set of hotkeys. And you might have something else actively running, like a music player.
  • Users speak different languages. Some languages don't use the Latin alphabet, in which case the mapping is useless. What's worse is that the languages that do use the Latin alphabet might have a different action "intuitively mapped" to the same letter, in which case the mapping is worse than useless - it's actively confusing. For instance, the Dutch word for "print" is "afdruk", so they'd map it to "Ctrl+A", which already has the standard meaning of "select all".
  • Many actions don't have a very clear name as such. Using "ctrl+[" and "ctrl-]" increases or decreases the font size in a number of apps. Some people would say "increase/decrease", others would think it's "smaller/bigger" font, maybe others would use something else. There's the language problem again.
  • As Ameen mentioned, many actions are logically paired, and since hotkeys are usually used by power users, we can assume that placing them together would be more important than making them easy to remember. Ctrl C/X/V are located together. The +/- and ]/[ example is another common one. A classic one is using WASD instead of the arrow keys for navigation in computer games.
  • Once you begin using modifier keys (ctrl/alt/shift) you get to a situation where some combinations are impossible to press unless you're a career pianist, especially if you don't want to drop the mouse in order to do so. So you'll go by location again.

There's probably a bunch of other reasons too.

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    "Some languages don't use the Latin alphabet, in which case the mapping is useless." - accordingly, localized versions of applications tend to use localized keyboard shortcuts. – O. R. Mapper Nov 12 '15 at 16:08
  • Based on experience with Russian and Hebrew, I've seen this on very rare occasions. – Vitaly Mijiritsky Nov 12 '15 at 16:17
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    Indeed like O. R. Mapper said, some shortcut keys actually are localized. Gets me every time I switch from a Swedish to an English UI or the other way around; for example, in Swedish word processors, Ctrl+F normally maps to boldface (because boldface = fetstil), but in English UIs, Ctrl+F is the customary keyboard shortcut for find, which is often Ctrl+B or Ctrl+H in Swedish UIs for reasons unexplained... – a CVn Nov 12 '15 at 19:05
  • I know one career pianist who would have had difficult reaching left Ctrl+P one handed. – cwallenpoole Nov 13 '15 at 18:39
  • @MichaelKjörling It's Ctrl-B because that one was swapped with Ctrl-F, obviously. – Tomas Nov 16 '15 at 12:10

According to this Wikipedia article, the Apple Lisa and Macintosh were the first computers to map those functions to key combinations, along with Undo. They basically used the keys closest to the 'command' key. I'm not sure there was any other logical reason other than proximity on a standard QWERTY keyboard.

Cut, copy and paste

According to this article, the original cut/copy/paste paradigm was originated by program designers at Xerox Parc.


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    I don't know that that is true. I had an old word processor (think typewriter, with LCD display) that used ctrl C and ctrl v. --- Looked it up Xerox PARC used ctrl+c et al before Lisa. – coteyr Nov 12 '15 at 13:57
  • @coteyr Looked it up where? The Wikipedia article says Apple popularized it but doesn't definitely state it originated at PARC, though it would appear that way. This answer is the real answer to the question with a source while none of the others have any source to back up their claim, if they make a claim at all. – Rob Nov 12 '15 at 16:01
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    en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Control-C – coteyr Nov 12 '15 at 19:36
  • I edited my answer to reflect your feedback, thanks... – donblanco Nov 12 '15 at 20:47
  • I would note that those two articles are not mutually exclusive at all. The wiki article only says Apple popularized the key combos, not that they were the first to use it. Very different concepts. – Jimbo Jonny Nov 17 '15 at 15:31

Some imaginative answers here - and the real solution is Wordstar, which was published in 1978.

In those days of CP/M, there were no cursor keys, so control-S was used by Wordstar for cursor-left, control-D for cursor-right, control-E for up and control-X for down by one position/line. CP/M had allotted control-P to "print the text being returned on/off" so you could get a copy of a report-to-screen by pressing ^P and then trigger the process by pressing "return" (got renamed "enter" later) - no graphics in those days - all character!

You'd notice that these keys form a convenient "diamond" on a keyboard. When special cursor keys were introduced, some keyboards had them laid out as a diamond rather than the current one-over-3 layout (and that seemed really odd when it first appeared.). As well, the control key was just to the left of the A key on many keyboards, which made using that diamond easy to type while leaving your hand on the "home row".

Control-A was back-one-word, control-F forward-one-word; control-R and Control-C moved by "one screen" (usually about 11 lines) up or down.

So, the next outer ring of characters is simply the original "diamond" on steroids.

Precede each of these with control-Q and you got to move to beginning/end of line, top-of-screen or return-to-where-you-came-from (^Q^X)

Copying and pasting involved a sequence of keys - ^K^B...^K^K...^K^C. These were ^K^B - mark start of block, ^K^K - mark end-of-block and ^K^C - copy-here (you would be moving the cursor between these sequence, obviously.)

This was cumbersome- but a whole lot easier than handwriting or retyping (although as late as 1986, we still had a "word-processor operator" who would retype documents because she simply refused to listen for long enough to be taught how to edit stored documents.(Joy, her name was - and a right misery, too))

As cursor and paging keys became more common, the requirement for ^S and its friends faded, and the keys were allocated other tasks by the manufacturers of newer WP programs. The "diamond" idea was hard to shift - well, no-one really tried AFAICS, so ^C became copy, and the next obvious letter for reverse-of-that was ^V, since ^P was allotted by CP/M. Sure, we were no longer using CP/M but it's difficult enough to get people to learn keystroke-sequences - don't ever try to get them to unlearn them once they've taken root...

Hence, ^C - ^V. Diamonds.

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  • IIRC, the diamond was already in use in WordMaster, which was WordStar's predecessor for 8080-family installation prior to CP/M. – Eli Skolas Nov 15 '15 at 10:28
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    Why most of the other answers provide good rationale for the practice, this is the actual correct answer. – DocSalvager Nov 16 '15 at 2:40
  • @Michael Kjörling provides the rest of the history in the OP's comments: the quora.com/topic/Apple-Human-Interface-Guidelines and the en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBM_Common_User_Access later canonized the practice that WordMaster / WordStar had pioneered. At that point they became "official" standards across both the Apple and IBM worlds, hence nearly universal. – Eli Skolas Nov 16 '15 at 8:33
  • CP/M did not have any standardization on Ctrl-C/V/X. That did not show up until Windows entered the arena,. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Nov 17 '15 at 0:46

The C key is comfortably positioned relative to the Ctrl key; that's [likely] why it's been chosen for the Copy shortcut. The P key, on the other hand, is too far away from the Ctrl key.

On a QWERTY keyboard, the C key is on the row above the Ctrl key. You can press both with your left hand while it remains in a natural and rested position, even if you have small hands. That is, your left small- or ring-finger (depending on the keyboard) can press Ctrl / Cmd and your left middle- or index-finger presses C without having to reach.

The Z, X, and V keys are immediate neighbors to C and are used with other keyboard shortcuts for the same reason.

You can, in theory, press the Ctrl / Cmd key and the P key with your left hand, but you have to flex your hand. You could also use your left hand to press Ctrl and your right hand to press P but removing and then returning your mouse/track hand is inconvenient.

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  • I tried to press <kbd>Ctrl</kbd> with my ring finger, and god, that's surely an unergonomic move (at least for me). I never stopped to think about which finger I use for each key before, to be honest. – T. Sar Nov 12 '15 at 11:23
  • It depends on the keyboard. I'm using an Apple wireless keyboard and it's easy to use your left ring-finger because the bottom-row keys (besides the spacebar) are like half the width of the ones on a Windows keyboard. – Tim Huynh Nov 12 '15 at 16:00
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    Do people not have a control key on the right? – Samuel Edwin Ward Nov 13 '15 at 4:45
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    This is all speculation. Without any citations it's not possible for you to say "that's why it's been chosen". – JonW Nov 15 '15 at 15:09
  • @SamuelEdwinWard Exactly. Pointer on Ctrl and ring finger on P works really good. I can slide my hand quickly across the keyboard letting my thumb follow the edge of the keyboard, and I land in the precise spot. It is slower because of transit time though. My hands are somewhat large though, as Ctrl+U is very comfortable using pinkie and pointer. – veryRandomMe Nov 16 '15 at 18:36

Originally there were two standards:

The Apple Standard: "zxcv" + Command (although i didn't find a good reference for when the "zxcv" started, it seems that the P as print for Macs started around 1989 http://www.asktog.com/TOI/toi06KeyboardVMouse1.html before it's P for Plain)

The IBM Standard: Insert, Delete + Control Keys (Control, Alt, Shift) http://publib.boulder.ibm.com/cgi-bin/bookmgr/BOOKS/F29AL000/2.2.106?SHELF=ceesl002&DT=19921204095534 or wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBM_Common_User_Access)

Microsoft products started with the IBM Standard as they "developed" their OS to run on IBM computers. With time they choose to adopt the Apple Standard as it's popular and easier to use. The true origins of the 'V' as paste are almost impossible to recover, but it may be argued that it was both a usability problem (get it close to the other common text shortcuts) and a many functions for one key problem (P for Print or P for Paste [edit] also P for Plain (remove bold/italics/underlines) [/edit]).

Moreover an Apple Computer had the command key close to the Alt, Control and Shift Key (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_Keyboard#/media/File:Apple_Macintosh_Plus_Extended_Keyboard.jpg), so it may be argued also that while any four close by keys could be used for the given functions, these keys would give better usability if closer to the command key. Of course one could argue that both C and X are very similar to their actions, making that position the best suited for the action set.

In the end it's major conjectures(theories) as of why the first Apple OS Computers of the nineties used these shortcuts, but probably it's simply because someone thought that would be a very useful set to have and would be used so much that they must be close to the Command (Control in windows came much after).

PS: If someone can find the Apple Interaction Guidelines of 1984 to 1990 it might be solved.

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One thing that no one has mentioned so far: none of these other basic text editing shortcuts match the first letter of their actions. They are:

  • CTRL + Z for "undo"
  • CTRL + X for "cut"
  • CTRL + C for "copy"
  • CTRL + V for "paste"

Maybe you could stretch that and say "eXtract" instead of "cut", but that word is not really used anywhere for that shortcut. On the other hand, all four of these shortcuts are positioned right next to each other in the bottom left corner of the keyboard. So CTRL + C is rather the odd one out.

Also, you are only looking at this from an english/american viewpoint (as a lot of user interface designers sadly do) and forget about all the other languages. In most of the other languages the names for these commands start with other names and would thus not match either. Considering that there are more computer users worldwide who are not English native speakers, focussing too much on an english/american view can alienate your other users. This is actually a very common mistake, so there are e.g. some games or other software (e.g. the Atom editor) that don't work properly with other keyboard layouts than the English one.

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  • Ctrl+C may be the odd one out in your four keys here, but there have always been many shortcuts that are mnemonic. Select All, Bold, Find, Italic, Open, Print, Quit, Save and Underline spring to mind... – Mr Lister Jul 19 '18 at 15:53
  • Those are much older, though. The CTRL+ZXCV shortcuts were chosen in Xerox PARC, long before the other shortcuts you mentioned. These other shortcuts came a lot later, and most of them aren't even OS specific, but rather program specific. While Copy+Paste uses the same shortcut in every program, because it is an OS standard, the shortcuts for different font types or opening files vary wildly between different programs. – Dakkaron Jul 20 '18 at 11:26

You can't do ctrl+c and ctrl+v quickly with one hand!

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    Do you mean you can't do ctrl+c and ctrl+p quickly with one hand, because ctrl+v you certainly can. – DasBeasto Nov 25 '15 at 17:37

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