[ verb, adjective bahy-fer-keyt, bahy-fur-keyt; adjective also bahy-fer-kit, bahy-fur- ]
/ verb, adjective ˈbaɪ fərˌkeɪt, baɪˈfɜr keɪt; adjective also ˈbaɪ fər kɪt, baɪˈfɜr- /

verb (used with or without object), bi·fur·cat·ed, bi·fur·cat·ing.

to divide or fork into two branches.


divided into two branches.



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Origin of bifurcate

1605–15; <Medieval Latin bifurcātus, past participle of bifurcāre (bi-bi-1 + furc(a) fork + -ātus-ate1)


bi·fur·cate·ly [bahy-fer-keyt-lee; bahy-fur-keyt-lee, -kit-], /ˌbaɪ fərˈkeɪt li; baɪˈfɜr keɪt li, -kɪt-/, adverbbi·fur·ca·tion, noun

Words nearby bifurcate Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020


What does bifurcate mean?

Birfurcate means to divide or fork into two branches.

Things can bifurcate on their own or in an otherwise passive way, as in That’s where the river bifurcates into two branches, or they can be bifurcated by someone, as in We bifurcated the road into two lanes so more people could exit at once. 

The word bifurcate can be used as an adjective meaning divided into two branches, but the adjective bifurcated is more commonly used in this way. The word bifurcation refers to the act of bifurcating or something that is bifurcated. These terms are most often used in technical and scientific contexts, such as engineering and medicine.

Example: The hiking trail bifurcates about three miles in, so make sure you go down the left branch.

Where does bifurcate come from?

The first records of bifurcate come from the early 1600s. It comes from the Medieval Latin bifurcātus, formed from the prefix bi-, meaning “two,” and the root furc(a), meaning “fork” (as in a fork in the road or a river).

In normal conversation, you’d say that a road or a river forks, not that it bifurcates, unless you were being technical about it. Bifurcate is used in many contexts in which structures are discussed in technical or scientific terms. Bifurcations can be found throughout nature in things like Y-shaped flowers, the tongues of snakes, even parts of the human body that fork into different channels, such as the arteries of the heart.

Bifurcate can also be used in the context of entities like organizations or governments that are split into different parts or factions. In golf, bifurcation refers to the proposal to have different equipment for professional and amateur players.

Things don’t always fork exactly in two—they can also trifurcate or furcate into multiple branches.

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What are some other forms related to bifurcate?

  • bifurcated (past tense verb, adjective)
  • bifurcation (noun)

What are some synonyms for bifurcate?

What are some words that share a root or word element with bifurcate


What are some words that often get used in discussing bifurcate?

How is bifurcate used in real life?

Bifurcate is usually used in technical or scientific contexts, especially biology, medicine, and engineering.



Try using bifurcate!

Which of the following things is likely to bifurcate?

A. a tree limb
B. an artery
C. a river
D. all of the above

Example sentences from the Web for bifurcate

British Dictionary definitions for bifurcate


verb (ˈbaɪfəˌkeɪt)

to fork or divide into two parts or branches

adjective (ɪbaɪˈfəˌkeɪt, -kɪt)

forked or divided into two sections or branches

Derived forms of bifurcate

bifurcation, noun

Word Origin for bifurcate

C17: from Medieval Latin bifurcātus, from Latin bifurcus, from bi- 1 + furca fork
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

Medical definitions for bifurcate

[ bīfər-kāt′, bī-fûr- ]


To divide into two parts or branches.


Forked or divided into two parts or branches.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

Scientific definitions for bifurcate

[ bīfər-kāt′, bī-fûr- ]

Forked or divided into two parts or branches, as the Y-shaped styles of certain flowers or the tongues of snakes.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.