[ trahy-fur-keyt, trahy-fer-keyt; adjective also trahy-fur-kit, trahy-fer- ]
/ traɪˈfɜr keɪt, ˈtraɪ fərˌkeɪt; adjective also traɪˈfɜr kɪt, ˈtraɪ fər- /

verb (used without object), tri·fur·cat·ed, tri·fur·cat·ing.

to divide into three forks or branches.


Also tri·fur·cat·ed. divided into three forks or branches.



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Origin of trifurcate

First recorded in 1650–60; see origin at tri-, furcate


tri·fur·ca·tion, noun Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020


What does trifurcate mean?

Trifurcate means to divide or fork into three branches.

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

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

The related and more common word bifurcate means to divide or fork into two branches.

Example: The hiking trail trifurcates after about four miles, so make sure you go down the middle path and not the ones on the right or left.

Where does trifurcate come from?

The first records of trifurcate come from the mid-1600s. It comes from the Latin trifurcus, from the prefix tri-, meaning “three,” and furc(a), meaning “fork” (as in a fork in the road or a river).

When a road or a river splits into two, you’d say it forks, or even bifurcates. Saying it forks can indicate that it splits into multiple channels, but if you want to specifically say that it splits into three, you can say it trifurcates. Trifurcate is used in many contexts in which structures are discussed in technical or scientific terms. Trifurcations can be found throughout nature, including parts of the human body that fork into three different channels, such as some arteries of the heart.

Did you know ... ?

What are some other forms related to trifurcate?

  • trifurcated (past tense verb, adjective)
  • trifurcation (noun)

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

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

How is trifurcate used in real life?

Trifurcate is often used in technical contexts, but it can be applied in any situation in which something is being split into three parts.



Try using trifurcate!

Which of the following things is likely to trifurcate?

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

Example sentences from the Web for trifurcate

  • There are two dorsal fins, slightly connected; the caudal fin is double concave or trifurcate.

    Bass, Pike, Perch, and Others|James Alexander Henshall

British Dictionary definitions for trifurcate



/ (ˈtraɪfɜːkɪt, -ˌkeɪt) /


having three branches or forks

Derived forms of trifurcate

trifurcation, noun

Word Origin for trifurcate

from Latin trifurcus, from tri- + furca a 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