bi·​fur·​cate ˈbī-(ˌ)fər-ˌkāt How to pronounce bifurcate (audio)
bifurcated; bifurcating

transitive verb

: to cause to divide into two branches or parts
bifurcate a beam of light

intransitive verb

: to divide into two branches or parts
The stream bifurcates into two narrow channels.
(ˌ)bī-ˈfər-kət How to pronounce bifurcate (audio)

Did you know?

Yogi Berra, the baseball great who was noted for his head-scratching quotes, is purported to have said, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it." Yogi's advice might not offer much help when making tough decisions in life, but perhaps it will help you remember bifurcate. A road that bifurcates splits in two like the one in Yogi's adage. Other things can bifurcate as well, such as an organization that splits into two factions. Bifurcate derives from the Latin bifurcus, meaning "two-pronged," a combination of the prefix bi- ("two") and the noun furca ("fork"). Furca, as you can probably tell, gave us our word fork.

Examples of bifurcate in a Sentence

The stream bifurcated into two narrow winding channels. bifurcate a beam of light
Recent Examples on the Web Those twin approaches still play out in the modern food-media landscape, which often seems bifurcated. Emily Heil, Washington Post, 20 Nov. 2023 Between the sidewalk and the street rose regularly planted silver stalks that bifurcated into blinking parking meters. William T. Vollmann, Harper's Magazine, 16 Oct. 2023 Equally significant, the PLA sends dozens of Chinese fighter jets into the island’s air defense identification zone on a near daily basis, sometimes crossing the line that bifurcates the Taiwan Strait. David M. Finkelstein, Foreign Affairs, 4 Oct. 2023 Executives at Paramount, meanwhile, opted to bifurcate Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning into two component parts rather than just name the second one something new or slap an eight on it, to what numbers crunchers describe as the detriment of its earning potential. Vulture, 6 Sep. 2023 At that time, Winship led the effort to bridge the gap with the goal of keeping the union from breaking up or bifurcating along more permanent lines. Jennifer Maas, Variety, 6 Sep. 2023 Jaouad’s diagnosis upends the happy couple’s life and bifurcates Heineman’s documentary, which might otherwise have simply built to that Carnegie Hall performance or to Grammy night 2022. Daniel Fienberg, The Hollywood Reporter, 1 Sep. 2023 Ford did this by bifurcating its compact utilities into the Escape and the new Bronco Sport. Sam Abuelsamid, Forbes, 17 July 2023 This bifurcated dynamic, in which U.S. supporters shore up dollar dominance and Washington’s detractors reduce their dollar dependence, nonetheless represents the most important threat to the dollar’s global prominence since the arrival of the euro in 1999. Carla Norrlöf, Foreign Affairs, 21 Feb. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'bifurcate.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Medieval Latin bifurcatus, past participle of bifurcare, from Latin bifurcus two-pronged, from bi- + furca fork

First Known Use

1615, in the meaning defined at transitive sense

Time Traveler
The first known use of bifurcate was in 1615

Dictionary Entries Near bifurcate

Cite this Entry

“Bifurcate.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 30 Nov. 2023.

Medical Definition


intransitive verb
bifurcated; bifurcating
: to divide into two branches or parts
bifurcation noun

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