Copy and Duplicate: How are they being used in UX Writing

When I go to make a copy of a digital file I am never sure what word I am going to find. Copy is common, but copy to, duplicate, and clone are also possibilities. I was curious if there was any consistency and if there was any correlation between the digital and non digital use of the words.

Non Digital Use

The English language references to duplicate, and copy were varied. Some said duplicate means an exact copy. Others said it referred to where the copy would be saved. There is the idea that copy has a negative connotation while duplicate doesn’t. No one agreed on one answer and it appeared that you could use the words interchangeably. For example we use the words duplicate and copy like this…

”Can you copy down notes?” Where copy is being used as a verb and it’s a given that the notes will not be an exact copy.

”I’m going to make a copy of my keys.” Here copy is being used as a noun and it’s implied that the keys will be identical.

”I am going to have duplicate keys made.” Again the keys are going to be identical but copy and duplicate are used interchangeably.

I was hoping for a rule similar to the one for fewer or less. Less is for uncountable things like sand, and fewer is used for things you can count like shells. But there wasn’t anything so concrete with copy and duplicate.

Digital Use

I did a small audit on the apps I have to see what words are used when. I was happy to find there was a little more clarity when it came to microcopy. Microcopy, is the small words you see in interfaces that give you direction. The most common functions of copy and duplicate are what follows.

Copy: Is to take something from a file and put it somewhere else. The most common example being copy and paste.

Duplicate: Is to make a duplicate of the document and add it to the file. For example you duplicate a picture and now there are two of the same picture in the file you are using.

This isn’t a given everywhere, but maybe it should be. Here are some examples I found in my small audit.


Copy you are going to take it somewhere. Duplicate you make a whole new file in the folder. You copy an item but you make a duplicate. Copy is a verb. Duplicate is a noun. Keeping the original rule of copy and paste.

I wasn’t really sure what I was going to find when I started looking into these two words. I suspected copy and duplicate would be used interchangeably, and the comments online suggested the same thing. However, in practice we seem to have a better understanding than originally thought. I suspect because copy and paste is such an established action we have done a good job of keeping things consistent in the digital world. What do you think? Where do you see copy and duplicate? I would also like to know how these actions are handled in different languages. Is it just as complicated or is there more clarity?

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