In printed books, or at least in novels, there are often major breaks within a chapter more important than paragraphs.

Often they are separated by a greater amount of whitespace than paragraphs and sometimes this whitespace will contain special symbols such as ⁂ or * * * or even a custom symbol.

So is there a specific term for these, perhaps used by authors or in the publishing industry? Or are the more general terms like section and subchapter the best we have? Some online sources at least seem to say this is used for subdivisions smaller than a subchapter, which doesn't help much.

  • 2
    @Alenanno: I wondered this years ago and never had a place to ask it before! May 21, 2011 at 11:51

6 Answers 6


The order of subdivision runs "Part (Subpart) and Section (Subsection)" between paragraph and chapter, as I found.

  1. Title (Subtitle)
  2. Chapter (Subchapter)
  3. Part (Subpart)
  4. Section (Subsection)
  5. Paragraph (Subparagraph)
  6. Clause (Subclause)
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    Looks good. Was this from the Latex manual? theoval.cmp.uea.ac.uk/~nlct/latex/novices/sectioning.html May 21, 2011 at 12:41
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    I think this is a reasonable distinction, and those of us familiar with LaTeX find it natural, but it's not universal. I've had textbooks which are broken into "sections" each of which contain multiple chapters.
    – Wayne
    May 21, 2011 at 13:10
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    That's weird, my books have parts containing chapters.
    – mbx
    May 21, 2011 at 13:18
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    @Boob: in some academic fields — certainly maths — it invariably goes Part, Chapter, Section, Paragraph, as @mbx says; I don’t know whether this is because that’s what LaTeX does, or whether that’s what LaTeX got its conventions from.
    – PLL
    May 21, 2011 at 13:59
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    In Docbook XML, it's part, chapter, section, paragraph (in descending order). It seems as though section is a reasonable answer to the OP's question, regardless of which set of rules you're using.
    – Loquacity
    May 23, 2011 at 9:50

I think you may not like it, but section is the word that works here:

From NOAD:

a relatively distinct part of a book, newspaper, statute, or other document.

That's kind of squishy — I mean, relatively distinct? — but it is the handiest term to use to describe those things.

Subchapter is more often used in legal documents. Example: "A Subchapter S corporation ..."

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    Section is considered a piece of a chapter by some, but I've also seen it used as a container for multiple chapters. For example a textbook that has theory section of chapters at the beginning, and then an application section of chapters at the end. In fact, thefreedictionary.com lists chapter as a synonym for section.
    – Wayne
    May 21, 2011 at 13:14
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    @Wayne: As I said: squishy.
    – Robusto
    May 21, 2011 at 13:20

I found several references to a scene as a subunit of a chapter that can be separated with *** or left as a normal paragraph break and recognised as a scene change by the reader, given a different location or character perspective. I can't find anything authoritative enough to quote though.

  • Interesting. Did you find those easily via Google or should I ask you to share them? May 21, 2011 at 12:25
  • Found some forum posts and so on in google. There is a wiki page but I think it's all very subjective.
    – z7sg Ѫ
    May 21, 2011 at 12:31
  • I think scene is very much restricted to theather...
    – nico
    May 21, 2011 at 13:40
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    @nico it is not restricted to theatre: scene; a sequence of continuous action in a play, film, opera, or book
    – z7sg Ѫ
    May 21, 2011 at 13:50
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    @z7sg: I’m familiar with scene to describe passages in a novel — “Do you remember that great scene in LotR when they drive Saruman out of the Shire?” — but hadn’t heard it as an editing/typographical term in the way we’re discussing here. I do know what you mean though about sections delineated with *** or an extra line break or something, and I guess scene may well be the term used for them in the trade, but I don’t think it would be widely understood.
    – PLL
    May 21, 2011 at 14:04

My publisher calls the separators themselves Fleurons or Dingbats.

  • 1
    Fleuron is a word for a typographic ornament. The OP was looking for a word that identifies the divisions of a chapter which are created by such ornaments.
    – MetaEd
    Feb 10, 2012 at 21:41
  • @MetaEd: really, I thought 'fleuron' was a made-up word.
    – Mitch
    Feb 10, 2012 at 21:56
  • Another word for the ornaments used to divide up chapters I've heard is asterism. Feb 11, 2012 at 10:35

For start, we should define the paragraph. There are many definitions of it. Let's take, that it is a non-named, but maybe numbered sequence of sentences, visible as one text block.

Second, I won't speak on sub- and super- terms. Obviously, we could add them at wish. Let's search for the "naked" terms.

I thought, the most elaborated documents makes the Catholic Church.

They use Part, Section, Chapter, Article, Paragraph.

Also they have about 4-5 levels under their paragraph. Names of them are unknown for me. But it is obvious that their paragraph is something else, and much greater than usual one - about 8 A4 pages.

Lawyers love complicated documents, too. According to this law site, Clauses could be equivalent to Articles. They also add Items. Their sections are below paragraphs and divided in Phrases - obviously, equivalent to our paragraph.

A West African lawyer site "Akoma Ntoso" gives us even more structural terms. It adds to already mentioned:

tome, list, statement, point, indent, alinea.

The title can appear not only as a name of some element, but as that very element. On the contrary the article can mean the title of something (explained here)

With list we are coming to structural elements, that are on the same level with usual ones, but have special name due to their special use.

Also, there are names for special kinds of texts. They can have special names for structural elements. Hunting with Thesaurus in the Free Dictionary, I have found:

  • canto - a major division of a long poem
  • episode - a brief section of a literary or dramatic work that forms part of a connected series
  • passage - a section of text; particularly a section of medium length
  • sura - one of the sections (or chapters) in the Koran; "the Quran is divided in 114 suras"
  • mezuza, mezuzah - religious texts from Deuteronomy inscribed on parchment and rolled up in a case that is attached to the doorframe of many Jewish households in accordance with Jewish law

Feel free to use >-)


I'm not sure, but I think you might be thinking of passage.

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