How to Use a Knife and Fork Properly

Written by ehow culture & society editor
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Whether preparing for a lunch interview or to meet the parents of your significant other, it's important that you exhibit proper table manners. A fairly basic, yet important element of dining etiquette is proper use of the knife and fork. Some of us take this knowledge for granted, but correct utensil usage varies across cultures and, to some extent, among different social classes.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy


  1. 1

    Use utensils placed furthest from the plate first. Forks are placed in the order to be used, moving from the outside in. Thus, for a formal meal that includes an appetizer, salad and entrée, you will see three forks. The fork you use to eat the entrée will be set closest to your dinner plate. Fourth forks are seldom needed, but are usually put above place settings.

  2. 2

    Hold the knife and fork in a non-threatening manner. Never hold utensils with a fist, as you would a weapon such as a dagger. It is also crucial to hold utensils horizontally at all times. This custom dates back to less congenial times when sharp dinnerware could double as an effective weapon.

  3. 3

    Pick up the fork with your left hand and the knife with your right. If you are left-handed use your right hand for the fork and left for the knife, and reverse all subsequent descriptions. Gently hold utensils between the middle and index fingers of each hand, Use your forefingers to balance the fork and knife and keep them parallel to the table.

  4. 4

    Gently pierce the item to be cut with the fork, making sure the tines are facing downward. Firmly place your left index finger on top of the fork to prevent slipping. Use the knife to cut the food in a saw-like back and forth fashion. Cut no more than one or two bite-sized pieces at a time.

  5. 5

    Lay the knife quietly across the edge of your dinner plate and transfer the fork from your left to your right hand. Bring the loaded fork to your mouth and politely take the food with your teeth. Close your mouth immediately and chew your food, keeping your mouth closed at all time. It is appropriate to lay your fork on your plate while you chew.

Tips and warnings

  • This method of fork and knife usage, commonly referred to as the American or zig-zag method is considered proper etiquette in the United States. The Continental, or European method, appropriate in many countries, does not involve transfer of the fork from the left to the right hand after cutting.
  • Never lay a used utensil on the table. If you happen to drop a utensil or touch any linens with your fork or knife, immediately request a clean replacement.
  • When finished eating, place all utensils on a flat piece of dinnerware, such as a large plate. When stacking dishes before table clearance, place all utensils together on the bottom plate, beneath bowls and other round pieces.

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