Ways to 'Divide and Conquer'

18 May 2024

And now, Words and Their Stories, from VOA Learning English.

On today's show, we talk about a strategy for winning or for completing a big task. That strategy is called dividing and conquering.

With this strategy, you gain an advantage by creating divisions within a group. You might try to turn your enemies against each other. You try to keep control over a group of people by creating problems among them. You could also make a group of people disagree and fight with one another. When you do this, they will likely be too busy fighting each other to think about fighting you.

Dividing and conquering is a useful strategy in many situations.
(Adobe Stock Photo/Miha Creative)
Dividing and conquering is a useful strategy in many situations. (Adobe Stock Photo/Miha Creative)

For example, the police detectives tried to divide and conquer warring drug dealers. The drug dealers were so busy fighting each other, they made mistakes and got arrested by police.

However, you must be careful when trying to divide and conquer. The people you are trying to divide may band together. This means they form an alliance. They overcome their differences, work together, and turn against you.

Now, this expression is not just used when talking about defeating people. We can also divide and conquer when trying to complete a difficult task.

If you want to complete a complex task, it is helpful to have several people working on it at the same time. You would divide the tasks and delegate them to others. That way, you can conquer - or complete - the task.

Here's an example. Let's say you are working on a big project with some co-workers. The project is complex and has many moving parts. So, instead of everyone working on the same things at once, you decide to divide and conquer. You assign each person a different task. In the end, the project gets done smoothly and on time.

Now, let's hear some friends use this expression this way. They are preparing for a surprise birthday party and have lots to do.

A: Okay, change of plans. Samantha just texted. She canceled her work meeting and will be here in two hours, not four.

B: Two hours?! That's not enough time! We'll never be ready for her surprise party. You need to stall her. But don't make her suspicious.

A: If I try to keep her away, she'll know something's up. She knows us too well.

B: You're right. What are we going to do??

A: First, calm down. What still needs to be done?

B: The food needs to be cooked, the cake and drinks need to be picked up, the living room needs to be decorated, and the gift needs to be wrapped. We'll never finish in time!

A: We will! We just need to divide and conquer! You keep cooking. I'll text Claudia and ask her to pick up the cake on the way over. Then I'll text Gwen. She can pick up the drinks. When Steve gets here, he can wrap the gift and decorate. He's good at those things.

B: Ok, sounds like a plan! Wait a minute. What will you be doing?

A: I'm busy! Dividing and conquering doesn't happen by itself.

And that's the end of this Words and Their Stories.

If you have a big goal, maybe it's time you divide and conquer it. Break it down into small tasks and get them done.

Until next time, I'm Anna Matteo.

Anna Matteo wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

conquer –v. to get or gain by force of arms : to defeat by force of arms : to be victorious

advantage –n. the fact of being in a better position or condition : something that helps the one it belongs to

band together –phrasal verb to form a group in order to do or achieve something

delegate –v. to assign a task or responsibility : to entrust to another

stall –v. to distract attention or make excuses to gain time

something's up –set phrase indicates that a situation is or seems suspicious, peculiar, or out of the ordinary