cleave

1 of 2

verb (1)

cleaved ˈklēvd How to pronounce cleave (audio) or clove ˈklōv How to pronounce cleave (audio) also clave ˈklāv How to pronounce cleave (audio) ; cleaved; cleaving

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

cleave

2 of 2

verb (2)

cleaved ˈklēvd How to pronounce cleave (audio) also cleft ˈkleft How to pronounce cleave (audio) or clove ˈklōv How to pronounce cleave (audio) ; cleaved also cleft or cloven ˈklō-vən How to pronounce cleave (audio) ; cleaving

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.

Did you know?

Cleave is part of an exclusive lexical club whose members are known as contronyms: words that have two meanings that contradict one another. In the case of cleave the two meanings belong to two etymologically distinct words. One cleave means “to adhere firmly and closely or loyally and unwaveringly,” as in “a family that cleaves to tradition”; it comes from the Old English verb clifian, meaning “to adhere.” The cleave with meanings relating to splitting and dividing comes from a different Old English word, clēofan, meaning “to split.” So although one might assume the two were once cleaved to one another only to become cloven over time, such is not the case!

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

Word History

Etymology

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

First Known Use

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

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

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Dictionary Entries Near cleave

Cite this Entry

“Cleave.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cleave. Accessed 28 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition

cleave

1 of 2 verb
cleaved ˈklēvd How to pronounce cleave (audio) or clove ˈklōv How to pronounce cleave (audio) ; cleaved; cleaving
: to cling to a person or thing closely

cleave

2 of 2 verb
cleaved
ˈklēvd
also cleft ˈkleft How to pronounce cleave (audio) or clove ˈklōv How to pronounce cleave (audio) ; cleaved also cleft or cloven ˈklō-vən How to pronounce cleave (audio) ; cleaving
: to split by or as if by a cutting blow
the bow of the ship cleaving the water
Etymology

Verb

Middle English clevien "adhere," from Old English clifian "adhere"

Verb

Middle English cleven "divide," from Old English clēofan "divide"

Medical Definition

cleave

transitive verb
cleaved; cleaving
: to subject to chemical cleavage
a protein cleaved by an enzyme

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