Do Divide And Separate Mean the Same Thing?

06 September, 2019

Today we answer a question from Alex.


Our reader Alex writes, "I want to know about the difference between divide and separate. Thank you!"

Ask a Teacher
Ask a Teacher


Dear Alex,

Thank you for asking such a good question!

The words divide and separate are similar, but also have differences, depending on how each is used.

Let us take one word at a time. Divide can be used as a verb or a noun. Merriam Webster's Learner's Dictionary defines the verb divide this way: "to separate (something) into two or more parts or pieces." Did you notice the word "separate" is part of the definition for divide?

The verb divide is often followed by the word "into," as you will note in this example:

The class is divided into four groups.

Now, divide also can be used as a noun. In the United States, it can be an actual, physical line, as in this example:

"The Continental Divide in North America is a line of hills or mountains from which rivers empty."

As a noun, divide can be a line that one cannot see, such as a line between two or more groups of people with different opinions or beliefs. For example, you could use it when talking about a political dispute.

"We must bridge the divide between Democrats and Republicans."

So how is separate different from divide?

Here is one difference; you pronounce separate differently depending on how you use it.

When used as a verb, separate is defined this way: to cause (two or more people or things) to stop being together, joined, or connected. Here is an example:

"She stepped in to separate the two men who were fighting."

It is pronounced like this: sep-puh-rate.

When separate is an adjective, pronounce the last syllable of the word as "ret."

In the following sentence, separate is used as an adjective:

"The boys and girls have separate rooms."

And That's Ask a Teacher!

I'm Anne Ball.

Anne Ball wrote this story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

pronounce v. to make a sound with one's voice

syllable – n. any part into which a word is divided when it is pronounced