I'm interested in how and why the verb cleave has two totally opposite definitions:

Definition I. Split or sever (something)

Definiiton II. Adhere strongly to

The referenced website shows the same etymology for both definitions?

Moreover, how can one manage or differentiate these two definitions, to obviate confusion?

  • english.stackexchange.com/questions/29805/… suggests different etymologies for the two meanings. Jun 14 '14 at 16:12
  • They're different words (according to the best analysis). They have different etymologies, and have arrived at the same spelling and pronunciation by convergent evolution. They are homonyms. Wikipedia: In linguistics, a homonym is, in the strict sense, one of a group of words that share the same spelling and pronunciation but may have different meanings. So, the verbs cleave and cleave (dictionaries usually slap on a temporary 1 and 2). Jun 14 '14 at 16:49
  • 2
    Doesn't common usage in the 2nd definition require an additional "to" after "cleave", or is that purely biblical? Jun 14 '14 at 17:26

OED does differentiate the etymologies:

s.v. cleave, v.1

  1. a. trans. To part or divide by a cutting blow; to hew asunder; to split.

Etymology: Common Germanic: Old English clíofan, cléofan, past tense cléaf, plural clufon, past participle clofen . . .

s.v. cleave, v.2

  1. To stick fast or adhere, as by a glutinous surface, to . . .

Etymology: Old English had two verbs; clífan strong (* cláf, plural clifon, clifen), and clifian, cleofian weak (clifode, -od ).

Biblically enjoined to “cleave unto his wife,” poor Henry VIII appears indeed to have got sadly confused between these two senses, though curiously not in the case of wife #4.

  • Thanks. Were you able to answer: Moreover, how can one manage or differentiate these two definitions, to obviate confusion? If not, would you please explain in your answer and not in comments?
    – NNOX Apps
    Jun 29 '14 at 2:57

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.