‘Cut-and-Dry’: Definition, Meaning, Examples

By Carly Forsaith, updated on March 26, 2024

Have you ever wondered what the expression 'cut-and-dry' means? If so, you've come to the right place. In this article, we'll explore the meaning of this common idiom, its possible origins, and how to use it in a sentence.

If you just want to know what it means, here's the short version:

  • When something is cut and dry, it means that it's either settled in advance or straightforward. The more common way to say it is 'cut and dried.'

What Does 'Cut-and-Dry' Mean?

The expression 'cut-and-dry' is an idiom, meaning it shouldn't be interpreted literally. It expresses a concept that can only be understood as a whole.

In addition to that, it has a couple of meanings.

  • Firstly, something that is cut and dry can mean it's straightforward or easy to understand. For instance, the answer to a question can be cut-and-dry: it's 'yes' or 'no.' The opposite would be a question that is complex and doesn't have a simple answer.

Here's an example:

The answer to your question isn't so cut and dry.

  • The other meaning is something that is settled in advance, so it needs little discussion or preparation. For instance, a presentation for new employees can be cut and dried, meaning it's prepared in advance and the same one is used each time.

Here's an example:

They always use the same old cut-and-dry presentation.

'Cut and dry' is actually a less popular version of 'cut and dried.' The latter is the format you'll see it in most often; some even consider 'cut and dry' incorrect.

And what about the hyphens? Here's the thing: depending on the layout of the sentence, you'll sometimes see it with hyphens and sometimes without. So how will you know whether to use one or not? Let me explain.

'Cut and dry' is a compound adjective, meaning it's an adjective comprising two words. There's one rule you should be aware of when it comes to compound words: a compound word should be hyphenated if it precedes the noun it modifies and open if it follows it.

Let me use my earlier example to illustrate:

The presentation was cut and dry.
They used a cut-and-dry presentation.

In the second sentence, the compound adjective 'crystal clear' precedes the noun' instructions,' which it modifies, so it needs a hyphen.

Where Does 'Cut-and-Dry' Come From?

The idiom 'cut and dry' originates in the practice of cutting and drying herbs and plants for medicinal use. In the 18th and 19th centuries, herbs, such as herbal medicine, were often collected and prepared for various purposes. Once the herbs were cut from the plants and dried, their properties became fixed and ready for use.

The figurative use of 'cut and dry' in language developed from this literal meaning. Over time, the expression came to be used more broadly to describe situations or matters that were settled, fixed, or predetermined, much like the properties of herbs once they were cut and dried. Today, the idiom is commonly used to convey the idea that something is clear-cut, decided, or lacking in ambiguity.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first use of the idiom in print was in Joseph Addison's 1710 Letter to Sacheverell, in the following quote:

Your Sermon was ready Cut and Dry’d.

Examples in Sentences

Now that we've covered the meaning of this idiom and its origins, here are some example sentences that use it.

The rules for the competition are cut and dry, leaving no room for interpretation.

He provided a very cut-and-dry explanation, leaving no room for further questions.

The instructions for assembling the furniture were cut and dry, making the process straightforward.

The company's policy on vacations is cut and dry, with specific guidelines for requesting time off.

We always use a protocol that's cut and dry so we can maintain consistency.

Let's use a cut-and-dry recipe, so there's no room for error.

The professor's evaluation process for the research paper was cut and dry, ensuring a standardized process.

The decision to cancel the event was cut and dry, considering the weather forecast and safety concerns.

The terms of the agreement were cut and dry, preventing any disputes over compensation.

The project timeline is cut and dry, with specific deadlines for each phase to ensure timely completion. 

Other Ways to Say 'Cut-and-Dry'

There are plenty of other ways to say something is straightforward and/or prepared in advance. They're great to use if you're looking for alternative phrases.

Here are some of them:

  • clear-cut
  • straightforward
  • black and white
  • unambiguous
  • definite
  • settled
  • prescribed
  • plain and simple

Concluding Thoughts

That concludes this article about this popular idiom. To summarize, when something is 'cut and dry,' it means it's either already decided in advance or plain and simple.

Are you ready to learn more English phrases and expand your vocabulary? Check out our idioms blog for other idioms, expressions, sayings, and more! 

We encourage you to share this article on Twitter and Facebook. Just click those two links - you'll see why.

It's important to share the news to spread the truth. Most people won't.

Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

Add new comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

WritingTips.org Newsletter
Receive information on
new articles posted, important topics, and tips.
Join Now
We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.