verb (used without object), cleaved or (Archaic) clave; cleaved; cleav·ing.

to adhere closely; stick; cling (usually followed by to).
to remain faithful (usually followed by to): to cleave to one's principles in spite of persecution.

Origin of cleave

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.

to split or divide by or as if by a cutting blow, especially along a natural line of division, as the grain of wood.
to make by or as if by cutting: to cleave a path through the wilderness.
to penetrate or pass through (air, water, etc.): The bow of the boat cleaved the water cleanly.
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.

to part or split, especially along a natural line of division.
to penetrate or advance by or as if by cutting (usually followed by through).

Origin of cleave

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

Synonyms for cleave Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for cleave

Historical Examples of cleave

  • If you are true, but not in the same truth with me, cleave to your companions; I will seek my own.

    Essays, First Series

    Ralph Waldo Emerson

  • Born and bred to the sea I was, and to the sea I will cleave.

    In the Days of Drake

    J. S. Fletcher

  • "I believe the Bible says to leave all and cleave unto your wife," returned Garrison.

    Garrison's Finish

    W. B. M. Ferguson

  • Does not the Bible say, 'You must leave father and mother, and cleave to me'?

  • Cleave made a slight gesture, sullen, weary, and determined.

    The Long Roll

    Mary Johnston

British Dictionary definitions for cleave



verb cleaves, cleaving, cleft, cleaved, clove, cleft, cleaved or cloven

to split or cause to split, esp along a natural weakness
(tr) to make by or as if by cuttingto cleave a path
(when intr, foll by through) to penetrate or traverse
Derived Formscleavable, adjectivecleavability, noun

Word Origin for cleave

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




(intr foll by to) to cling or adhere

Word Origin for cleave

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 cleave

"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