How to fix copy paste not working on Mac: 7 Ways explained

Written By Rachel Reviewed By How-to Mac 8 Min Read

Copy-pasting has become so deeply integrated into our interactions with desktop devices that we use it instinctively. I’d even argue that it’s the most used feature on Mac — no, on any desktop computer.

So it’s a huge hassle when your Mac suddenly stops letting you copy and paste items. It usually enables you to do the action, but it doesn’t seem to “stick” and transfer to your desired location.

Below are some potential reasons why copy and paste isn’t working on your Mac and things you can do to get it to work again.

Why is copy and paste not working on Mac?

There are many reasons why copying and pasting on Mac is suddenly not working. Here are the most common:

  • OS bugs and glitches
  • Third-party apps or utilities interfering with the keyboard shortcut
  • Clipboard malfunction
  • Lack of permission to copy 
  • Compatibility errors
  • Rogue apps and malware
  • Software conflict

7 Ways to fix copy paste not working on Mac

Here are several problem-solving strategies aimed at addressing a range of potential issues that could be interfering with the copy-paste feature on your Mac.

1. Force quit the app

The copy-paste issue may be limited to an app you currently use. If that’s the case, try force quitting the app by hitting Cmd + Q and relaunching it afterward. This refreshes the app and possibly restores the copy-and-paste functionality within the app.

If you find that this issue is only present in a specific app, you might want to try updating (if there’s an update available) or deleting and reinstalling the app.

2. Reboot your Mac

If force-quitting the app doesn’t work, a quick restart might. Go to Apple menu → Hit Restart → Click Restart again to confirm.

In most cases, booting your Mac resets all the memory in the RAM, which helps get your Mac’s clipboard back up and running.

3. Restart your clipboard

If the issue persists and is present across other apps, you can restart the clipboard. 

Via the Activity Monitor:

  1. Go to Finder → Click Go in the menu bar.

    Go to Utilities in Mac
  2. Select UtilitiesActivity Monitor.
    Alternatively, you can do a Spotlight search and look for Activity Monitor

    Go to Activity Monitor in Utilities on Mac
  3. Enter pboard in the search field found in the upper right corner of the Activity Monitor window.
  4. Select pboard from the results → Click the Stop (X) icon at the top.

    Select pboard in activity monitor
  5. Click Force Quit.

    Click on Force Quit

This force quits the process automatically. Close Activity Monitor and check if the copy-paste function is back to normal.

Via the Terminal:

You can also force quit the clipboard process from the Terminal.

  1. Go to Finder → Click Go in the menu bar → Select Utilities.
  2. Launch Terminal.

    Launch Terminal in Utilities
  3. Type sudo killall pboard.
  4. Enter your password.

    Enter sudo killall pboard and press return
  5. Hit return on your keyboard.

4. Kill the WindowServer process

Another fix would be to restart the WindowServer process.

This process is responsible for the communication between the apps and the displays and processes the graphical elements you see on your screen. It’s possible that the copy and paste on Mac is not working because an app window isn’t being rendered properly.

To restart it:

  1. Open Activity Monitor → Type windowserver in the search bar.
  2. Select it and click the Stop (X) icon.
  3. Choose Quit.

5. Update macOS

Software glitches and bugs are common in the first versions of major macOS updates.

It’s not uncommon to see forums flooding with complaints of glitches after updating to a newly released major update. If this is your case, you can downgrade your Mac or wait for Apple to release an update that fixes these.

6. Boot Mac in Safe Mode

Booting your Mac in Safe Mode loads only the necessary files and apps for it to run. If you can copy and paste with no problem in Safe Mode, you know that the culprit is something you’ve added, like an extension, plug-in, or new app. 

7. Use a third-party clipboard app

While this doesn’t really solve the issue, using a third-party clipboard app can temporarily substitute the copy-paste functionality of your Mac, enabling you to carry out necessary tasks.

In the meantime, if you’re already using one and realize that you cannot use the built-in copy-paste functions of your Mac, consider uninstalling the third-party clipboard app. It may be creating the conflict that obstructs your Mac’s native functions.

Contact Apple Support

When nothing else seems to work, it’s best to visit the nearest Apple Store for professional assistance. They may be able to diagnose the issue and fix or even replace your Mac if it’s still within warranty.

Different ways of copy-pasting on Mac

Now that I have discussed the troubleshoots, it would be good to discuss how copy and paste functions work on Macs quickly.

  • The most commonly used way to copy-paste on Mac is using the keyboard shortcuts Cmd + C for Copy and Cmd + V for Paste.
  • The next method would be to highlight a text or file with your mouse or cursor and double-clicking or control-clicking them to access the contextual menu, where you can find the Copy and Paste options.
  • Another is the Edit toolbar which you can find on the menu bar. Just highlight or select the item you want to copy, click Edit, and look for Copy, then go to the specified location and click Paste from the same menu.
  • Copy-pasting also works across Apple devices with Universal Clipboard. So if your issue involves problems with copying on iPhone and pasting on Mac, then your issue is with the Universal Clipboard. Read our article about quick fixes for Universal Clipboard not working to solve this issue.

Wrapping up…

The copy-paste function is deeply embedded into every user’s use of their desktop devices, and any issue affecting it becomes a significant inconvenience. Fingers crossed, one of those fixes I’ve mentioned will have your Mac’s copy-paste back in action in no time!

Read more:

🗣️ Our site is supported by our readers like you. When you purchase through our links, we earn a small commission. Read Disclaimer.

By Rachel Contributing Writer
Rachel, an experienced Apple technology writer since 2021 and a long-time user since 2003, began her journey with a silver iPod Classic. Currently, she owns an array of modern Apple gadgets. At iGeeksBlog, her expertise shines through in the crafting of comprehensive how-to articles, informative guides, and well-curated roundups.
Leave a comment