What is the difference between "splitting something" and "dividing something"?

When do people say split and when do they say divide?

  • 1
    I think the differences in connotation and usage here may be interesting, although the question might be stronger with some context or examples to focus on. Sep 1, 2013 at 1:47

4 Answers 4


I would say the distinction is that splitting implies crude or forceful, you split a log (or an infinitive) while dividing implies deliberate precision, you divide a circle into quadrants ( or Gaul into three parts )

  • 2
    I wonder whether this is more of a difference in register because dividere is Latin, while splitten is Germanic? Sep 1, 2013 at 2:14
  • 1
    Wholeheartedly agree with this. If a few people go out to dinner together, when presented with a check they might say "Let's just split it," implying a crude, simple split amongst all parties, or "Let's just divide it," implying figuring out what everyone owes individually. Not a perfect rule ("Can you split the check?") but it works.
    – Amory
    Sep 1, 2013 at 3:14
  • I think divide emphasizes the measurement of the resulting parts while split emphasizes the act of separation. That may be why you have to add equally when you say, "Let's split it equally. "
    – Jim
    Sep 1, 2013 at 4:26

Splitting might mean actually separating or chunking something, while dividing may not.


I undestand these words like this:

split: not all equal (lets split 10 in 5 4,2,1,1,1,1) or all equal (split in 'even' parts 2,2,2,2,2).

divide: all equal ( divide in 'always' in even parts) lets divide 10/5 '2,2,2,2,2' all equal.

  • my definition is for quantities
    – marsulld
    Sep 1, 2013 at 3:53

When do people say split and when do they say divide?

Divide and Split

What's the difference between "splitting something in half" and "dividing something in half"? I'd say both terms can be used interchangeably in the following scenario.

If a restaurant bill was $36.00, each person would pay exactly $18.00.

A couple (married or otherwise) can split up.
If they later divorced, you can say they had to divide their assets between the two of them. It's quite common to say; they divided (something) fifty-fifty in this case.

You have to divide (your) time between work, recreation and family duties. You also divide work responsibilities.

In maths (BrEng) math (AmEng) we use the word, divide, for making divisions,
e.g., divided 20 by 4; divided 5 into 35; 3 divides 9.

In idiomatic expressions we say:

  • Split hairs (to try to make petty distinctions) not Divide hairs.
    E.g.; "Stop splitting hairs over such minor details."
  • I've got to split (I must go away immediately, I don't have time)

  • To split people up ( break up two people because they are fighting or for example talking incessantly)
    The teacher split the two boys up because they were behaving badly.

  • 2
    Another example would be splitting wood (as in chopping with an axe)- if one went out to divide wood, it would imply that there was something quite different... Sep 1, 2013 at 12:49

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