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  1. a space or opening made by cleavage; a split.
  2. a division formed by cleaving.
  3. a hollow area or indentation: a chin with a cleft.
  4. Veterinary Pathology. a crack on the bend of the pastern of a horse.

Origin of cleft1

1300–50; Middle English clift, Old English (ge)clyft split, cracked; cognate with Old High German, Old Norse kluft; akin to cleave2


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1. fissure, crevice, crack, rift, cranny, chasm, crevasse.


  1. a simple past tense and past participle of cleave2.
  1. cloven; split; divided.
  2. (of a leaf, corolla, lobe, or other expanded plant part) having divisions formed by incisions or narrow sinuses that extend more than halfway to the midrib or the base.

Origin of cleft2

see origin at cleft1


verb (used without object), cleaved or (Archaic) clave; cleaved; cleav·ing.
  1. to adhere closely; stick; cling (usually followed by to).
  2. to remain faithful (usually followed by to): to cleave to one's principles in spite of persecution.

Origin of cleave1

before 900; Middle English cleven, Old English cleofian, cognate with Old High German klebēn (German kleben)
Related formscleav·ing·ly, adverb


verb (used with object), cleft or cleaved or clove, cleft or cleaved or clo·ven, cleav·ing.
  1. to split or divide by or as if by a cutting blow, especially along a natural line of division, as the grain of wood.
  2. to make by or as if by cutting: to cleave a path through the wilderness.
  3. to penetrate or pass through (air, water, etc.): The bow of the boat cleaved the water cleanly.
  4. to cut off; sever: to cleave a branch from a tree.
verb (used without object), cleft or cleaved or clove, cleft or cleaved or clo·ven, cleav·ing.
  1. to part or split, especially along a natural line of division.
  2. to penetrate or advance by or as if by cutting (usually followed by through).

Origin of cleave2

before 950; Middle English cleven, Old English clēofan, cognate with Old High German klioban (German klieben), Old Norse kljūfa; akin to Greek glýphein to carve, Latin glūbere to peel


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1. halve, rend, rive.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for cleft


  1. the past tense and a past participle of cleave 1
  1. a fissure or crevice
  2. an indentation or split in something, such as the chin, palate, etc
  1. split; divided
  2. (of leaves) having one or more incisions reaching nearly to the midrib

Word Origin

Old English geclyft (n); related to Old High German kluft tongs, German Kluft gap, fissure; see cleave 1


verb cleaves, cleaving, cleft, cleaved, clove, cleft, cleaved or cloven
  1. to split or cause to split, esp along a natural weakness
  2. (tr) to make by or as if by cuttingto cleave a path
  3. (when intr, foll by through) to penetrate or traverse
Derived Formscleavable, adjectivecleavability, noun

Word Origin

Old English clēofan; related to Old Norse kljūfa, Old High German klioban, Latin glūbere to peel


  1. (intr foll by to) to cling or adhere

Word Origin

Old English cleofian; related to Old High German klebēn to stick
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for cleft


1570s, alteration (by influence of cleft, new weak past participle of cleave (v.1)), of Middle English clift (early 14c.), from Old English geclyft (adj.) "split, cloven," from Proto-Germanic *kluftis (cf. Old High German and German kluft, Danish kløft "cleft"), from PIE *gleubh- (see glyph). In Middle English anatomy, it meant "the parting of the thighs" (early 14c.).


late 14c., past participle adjective from cleave (v.1)). Cleft palate attested from 1828.



"to split," Old English cleofan, cleven, cliven "to split, separate" (class II strong verb, past tense cleaf, past participle clofen), from Proto-Germanic *kleubanan (cf. Old Saxon klioban, Old Norse kljufa, Danish klöve, Dutch kloven, Old High German klioban, German klieben "to cleave, split"), from PIE root *gleubh- "to cut, slice" (see glyph).

Past tense form clave is recorded in Northern writers from 14c. and was used with both verbs (see cleave (v.2)), apparently by analogy with other Middle English strong verbs. Clave was common to c.1600 and still alive at the time of the KJV; weak past tense cleaved for this verb also emerged in 14c.; cleft is still later. The past participle cloven survives, though mostly in compounds.



"to adhere," Middle English cleven, clevien, cliven, from Old English clifian, cleofian, from West Germanic *klibajanan (cf. Old Saxon klibon, Old High German kliban, Dutch kleven, Old High German kleben, German kleben "to stick, cling, adhere"), from PIE *gloi- "to stick" (see clay). The confusion was less in Old English when cleave (v.1) was a class 2 strong verb; but it has grown since cleave (v.1) weakened, which may be why both are largely superseded by stick (v.) and split (v.).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

cleft in Medicine


([object Object])
  1. A split or fissure between two parts.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

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