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verb (used with object), dis·trib·ut·ed, dis·trib·ut·ing.
  1. to divide and give out in shares; deal out; allot.
  2. to disperse through a space or over an area; spread; scatter.
  3. to promote, sell, and ship or deliver (an item or line of merchandise) to individual customers, especially in a specified region or area.
  4. to pass out or deliver (mail, newspapers, etc.) to intended recipients.
  5. to divide into distinct phases: The process was distributed into three stages.
  6. to divide into classes: These plants are distributed into 22 classes.
  7. Logic. to employ (a term) in a proposition so as to refer to all individuals denoted by the term.
  8. Physical Chemistry. to dissolve uniformly in a solvent consisting of layers of immiscible or partially miscible substances.
  9. Printing.
    1. to roll out (ink) on the table to attain the proper consistency.
    2. to return (type) to the proper place after printing.

Origin of distribute

1400–50; late Middle English < Latin distribūtus, past participle of distribuere to divide up. See dis-1, tribute
Related formsdis·trib·ut·a·ble, adjectivepre·dis·trib·ute, verb (used with object), pre·dis·trib·ut·ed, pre·dis·trib·ut·ing.

Synonyms for distribute

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Synonym study

1. Distribute, dispense apply to giving out something. Distribute implies apportioned, individualized giving, especially of something that is definite or limited in amount or number: The prizes were distributed among ten winners. Dispense formerly implied indiscriminate, general, and liberal giving, especially of something that was more or less indefinite or unmeasured in amount: to dispense largess. It now applies chiefly to giving according to need or deserts, from an organized and official source: to dispense medicines and food to the victims.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for distribute

Contemporary Examples of distribute

Historical Examples of distribute

  • This will mix all the food and distribute the moisture equally.

    Woman's Institute Library of Cookery, Vol. 5

    Woman's Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences

  • Angelique herself could not distribute much money, as she had none.

    The Dream

    Emile Zola

  • She could distribute, and did distribute pretty looks and smiles to every one among them.

    Little Dorrit

    Charles Dickens

  • How could the sacristans manage to distribute the holy vestments and the cloths?

  • It took about fifty of us several hours to distribute these presents.


    Theodor Hertzka

British Dictionary definitions for distribute


verb (tr)
  1. to give out in shares; dispense
  2. to hand out or deliverto distribute handbills
  3. (often passive) to spread throughout a space or areagulls are distributed along the west coast
  4. (often passive) to divide into classes or categories; classifythese books are distributed in four main categories
  5. printing to return (used type) to the correct positions in the type case
  6. logic to incorporate in a distributed term of a categorial proposition
  7. maths logic to expand an expression containing two operators in such a way that the precedence of the operators is changed; for example, distributing multiplication over addition in a (b + c) yields ab + ac
  8. obsolete to dispense (justice)
Derived Formsdistributable, adjective

Word Origin for distribute

C15: from Latin distribuere from dis- 1 + tribuere to give
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 distribute

early 15c., "to deal out or apportion," from Latin distributus, past participle of distribuere "to divide, distribute" (see distribution). Related: Distributable; distributed; distributing.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper