from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • transitive v. To split with or as if with a sharp instrument. See Synonyms at tear1.
  • transitive v. To make or accomplish by or as if by cutting: cleave a path through the ice.
  • transitive v. To pierce or penetrate: The wings cleaved the foggy air.
  • transitive v. Chemistry To split (a complex molecule) into simpler molecules.
  • intransitive v. Mineralogy To split or separate, especially along a natural line of division.
  • intransitive v. To penetrate or pass through something, such as water or air.
  • intransitive v. To adhere, cling, or stick fast.
  • intransitive v. To be faithful: cleave to one's principles.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • v. To split or sever something or as if with a sharp instrument.
  • v. To break a single crystal (such as a gemstone or semiconductor wafer) along one of its more symmetrical crystallographic planes (often by impact), forming facets on the resulting pieces.
  • v. To make or accomplish by or as if by cutting.
  • v. To split (a complex molecule) into simpler molecules.
  • v. To split.
  • v. Of a crystal, to split along a natural plane of division.
  • n. Flat, smooth surface produced by cleavage, or any similar surface produced by similar techniques, as in glass.
  • v. To cling, adhere or stick fast to something; used with to or unto.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • intransitive v. To adhere closely; to stick; to hold fast; to cling.
  • intransitive v. To unite or be united closely in interest or affection; to adhere with strong attachment.
  • intransitive v. To fit; to be adapted; to assimilate.
  • transitive v. To part or divide by force; to split or rive; to cut.
  • transitive v. To part or open naturally; to divide.
  • intransitive v. To part; to open; to crack; to separate; as parts of bodies.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • To stick; adhere; be attached; cling: often used figuratively.
  • To fit closely.
  • To part or divide by force; rend apart; split or rive; separate or sunder into parts, or (figuratively) seem to do so: as, to cleave wood; to cleave a rock.
  • To produce or effect by cleavage or clearance; make a way for by force; hew out: as, to cleave a path through a wilderness.
  • . To part or open naturally.
  • Synonyms Split, Rip, etc. See rend.
  • To come apart; divide; split; open; especially, to split with a smooth plane fracture, or in layers, as certain minerals and rocks. See cleavage, 2 and 3.
  • In agriculture, to replow (old ridges) in such a manner as to divide each in the middle. See cleaving. Also split.
  • n. In mining, a subdivision of a bed, usually of iron ore; a bench.
  • n. A basket or basketful: as a cleave of potatoes, or of turf.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • v. make by cutting into
  • v. separate or cut with a tool, such as a sharp instrument
  • v. come or be in close contact with; stick or hold together and resist separation


Middle English cleven, from Old English clēofan; see gleubh- in Indo-European roots.
Middle English cleven, from Old English cleofian.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From the Old English strong verb clēofan, from Proto-Germanic *kleubanan, from Proto-Indo-European *glewbʰ- (“to cut, to slice”). Cognate with Swedish klyva, Dutch klieven, dialectal German klieben, and Greek γλύφω (glyfó, "carve"). (Wiktionary)
From Old English cleofian, from Proto-Germanic *klibjanan, from Proto-Indo-European *gley- (“to stick”). Cognates include German kleben, Dutch kleven. (Wiktionary)



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  • Thought cleaves the interstellar gloom
    And sits in Sirius' disc all night,
    Till day makes him retrace his flight
    With smell of burning on every plume,
    Back past the sun to an earthly room.

    - Robert Frost, 'Bond and Free'.

    August 8, 2009

  • Because if you listen to prophets, they give you ammunition. The nature of twins. The millionth position of pi (do infinite numbers have beginnings?). And most of all, the double meaning of the word cleave. Did he know which was worse, which more traumatic: pulling together or tearing apart?
    p. 359

    September 15, 2007

  • How is it that cleave means "split" and "cling to" at the same time?

    August 13, 2007

  • ... the men carve
    the hunted beast

    cleaving it
    joist to joist.

    Rachel Phillips, in As/Is

    December 21, 2006