verb (1)
\ ˈklēv \
cleaved\ ˈklēvd \ or clove\ ˈklōv \ also clave\ ˈklāv \; cleaved; cleaving

Definition of cleave

 (Entry 1 of 2)

intransitive verb

: to adhere firmly and closely or loyally and unwaveringly They kept themselves strictly separate, each cleaving to their own language, rituals, and food.Gourmet Notice was served on the Democratic party that it must cleave to the Jackson line if it wanted the labor vote.— Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. The film's script has the same lack of pretension, cleaving to the teen movie formula with its high school cliques, clowns and bullies …— Sandra Hall


verb (2)
cleaved\ ˈklēvd \ also cleft\ ˈkleft \ or clove\ ˈklōv \; cleaved also cleft or cloven\ ˈklō-​vən \; cleaving

Definition of cleave (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

1 : to divide by or as if by a cutting blow : split The blow cleaved the victim's skull.
2 : to separate into distinct parts and especially into groups having divergent views The political party was cleaved by internal bickering.
3 : to subject to chemical cleavage a protein cleaved by an enzyme

intransitive verb

1 : to split especially along the grain The ax easily cleaved through the log.
2 : to penetrate or pass through something by or as if by cutting The ship's bow cleaved through the water.

Choose the Right Synonym for cleave

Verb (1)

stick, adhere, cohere, cling, cleave mean to become closely attached. stick implies attachment by affixing or by being glued together. couldn't get the label to stick adhere is often interchangeable with stick but sometimes implies a growing together. antibodies adhering to a virus cohere suggests a sticking together of parts so that they form a unified mass. eggs will make the mixture cohere cling implies attachment by hanging on with arms or tendrils. clinging to a capsized boat cleave stresses strength of attachment. the wet shirt cleaved to his back

Verb (2)

tear, rip, rend, split, cleave, rive mean to separate forcibly. tear implies pulling apart by force and leaving jagged edges. tear up the letter rip implies a pulling apart in one rapid uninterrupted motion often along a line or joint. ripped the shirt on a nail rend implies very violent or ruthless severing or sundering. an angry mob rent the prisoner's clothes split implies a cutting or breaking apart in a continuous, straight, and usually lengthwise direction or in the direction of grain or layers. split logs for firewood cleave implies very forceful splitting or cutting with a blow. a bolt of lightning cleaved the giant oak rive occurs most often in figurative use. a political party riven by conflict

First Known Use of cleave

Verb (1)

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined above

Verb (2)

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1

History and Etymology for cleave

Verb (1)

Middle English clevien, from Old English clifian; akin to Old High German kleben to stick

Verb (2)

Middle English cleven, from Old English clēofan; akin to Old Norse kljūfa to split, Latin glubere to peel, Greek glyphein to carve

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Time Traveler for cleave

The first known use of cleave was before the 12th century

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More Definitions for cleave


\ ˈklēv \
cleaved or clove\ ˈklōv \; cleaving

Kids Definition of cleave

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: to cling to a person or thing closely The child cleaved to his mother.


cleaved also cleft\ ˈkleft \ or clove\ ˈklōv \; cleaved also cleft or cloven\ ˈklō-​vən \; cleaving

Kids Definition of cleave (Entry 2 of 2)

: to divide by or as if by a cutting blow : split The ax cleaved the log in two.
\ ˈklēv \
cleaved; cleaving

Medical Definition of cleave

: to subject to chemical cleavage a protein cleaved by an enzyme

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More from Merriam-Webster on cleave

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with cleave

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for cleave

Spanish Central: Translation of cleave

Nglish: Translation of cleave for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of cleave for Arabic Speakers

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