So I have a file with 2 columns as follows:

  10  1
  11  2
  12  3
  13  4
  14  5

I would like to switch the columns using the cut command. I've used

paste <(cut -f2 file.dat) <(cut -f1 file.dat)

And it's giving me the following:

  10  1  10  1
  11  2  11  2
  12  3  12  3
  13  4  13  4
  14  5  14  5

Anyone know how I could use cut and paste to switch the columns? I thought the cut -f1 or cut -f2 would cut each field but apparently not? What am I doing wrong here?

UPDATE: So I'm using -d instead of f and it's giving me weird results and yet when I cat the file, the contents remain unchanged?

  • What is the output of simply cut -f2 file.txt?
    – jesse_b
    Jun 7, 2018 at 22:48
  • @Jesse_b it's actually displaying the content of the file as is. I'm confused. My file is also one with .dat extension. But I don't think that changes anything?
    – CodingNoob
    Jun 7, 2018 at 22:51

2 Answers 2


The default delimiter for cut is a tab character - if you want to cut space-separated data you will need to specify that using the -d argument.

Your input file appears to use multiple spaces which make it harder:

paste <(cut -d' ' -f5 file.txt) <(cut -d' ' -f3 file.txt)
1   10
2   11
3   12
4   13
5   14

or you could replace spaces by tabs (squeezing out repeats) - note that the fields become -f3 and -f2 because your file has leading whitespace:

paste <(tr -s ' ' '\t' < file.txt | cut -f3) <(tr -s ' ' '\t' < file.txt | cut -f2)

In this case, it would be simpler to use awk e.g.

awk '{print $2,$1}' file.txt


awk '{print $2,$1}' OFS='\t' file.txt

if you want tab-separated output (as you would get from paste) ex.

$ awk '{print $2,$1}' OFS='\t' file.txt
1   10
2   11
3   12
4   13
5   14
  • It was able to make it work with awk and grep as well, but I also have to do it using cut and paste and I tried the one suggested above and no luck.
    – CodingNoob
    Jun 7, 2018 at 23:07
  • @CodingNoob you may need to experiment with the field numbers - or count the spaces - if your input is not exactly as you posted (for example, does it really have leading whitespace, as above)? Jun 7, 2018 at 23:09

So I figured what I wanted to do with the following:

cut -d' ' -f1 file.txt > f1.txt

To cut and append the first column to a new file f1.txt

cut -d' ' -f4 file.txt > f2.txt

To cut and append the second column to a new file f2.txt

paste f2.txt f1.txt > file.txt

And finally to overwrite the original file.txt with switched columns.

  • Then paste <(cut -d' ' -f4 file.txt) <(cut -d' ' -f1 file.txt) should work as well. But note that this approach assumes that every line in your file will have a two-digit number in column 1 and a single-digit number in column 2. Jun 8, 2018 at 3:32

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