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  1. a distinct part of anything arranged in divisions; a division of a complex whole or organized system.
  2. one of the principal branches of a governmental organization: the sanitation department.
  3. (initial capital letter) one of the principal divisions of the U.S. federal government, headed by a secretary who is a member of the president's cabinet.
  4. a division of a business enterprise dealing with a particular area of activity: the personnel department.
  5. a section of a retail store selling a particular class or kind of goods: the sportswear department.
  6. one of the sections of a school or college dealing with a particular field of knowledge: the English department.
  7. one of the large districts into which certain countries, as France, are divided for administrative purposes.
  8. a division of official business, duties, or functions: judicial departments.
  9. a sphere or province of activity, knowledge, or responsibility: Paying the bills is not my department.
  10. (usually initial capital letter) U.S. Army. (formerly) a large geographical division of the U.S. or its possessions as divided for military and defense purposes: the Hawaiian Department.

Origin of department

1730–35; < French département, equivalent to départ(ir) (see depart) + -ment -ment
Related formsde·part·men·tal [dih-pahrt-men-tl, dee-pahrt-] /dɪ pɑrtˈmɛn tl, ˌdi pɑrt-/, adjectivede·part·men·tal·ly, adverbnon·de·part·men·tal, adjectivenon·de·part·men·tal·ly, adverbpre·de·part·men·tal, adjectivesub·de·part·ment, nounsub·de·part·men·tal, adjective

Synonyms for department

See more synonyms for on Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

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Historical Examples of department

British Dictionary definitions for department


  1. a specialized division of a large concern, such as a business, store, or universitythe geography department
  2. a major subdivision or branch of the administration of a government
  3. a branch or subdivision of learningphysics is a department of science
  4. a territorial and administrative division in several countries, such as France
  5. informal a specialized sphere of knowledge, skill, or activitywine-making is my wife's department
Derived Formsdepartmental (ˌdiːpɑːtˈmɛntəl), adjectivedepartmentally, adverb

Word Origin for department

C18: from French département, from départir to divide; see depart
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 department

mid-15c., "a going away, act of leaving," from Old French departement (12c.) "division, sharing out; divorce, parting," from Late Latin departire (see depart). French department meant "group of people" (as well as "departure"), from which English borrowed the sense of "separate division, separate business assigned to someone in a larger organization" (c.1735). Meaning "separate division of a government" is from 1769. As an administrative district in France, from 1792.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper