Is there a word/phrase to describe the charateristic of a group of people being composed of small and independent groups of people?

In Chinese, we would say that a group has a lot of "小團體", which literally means small group. That expression often means the group is divided and everyone only interacts with few people in the group. This happens very often in school and workplace and is usually considered a negative thing because it's hard for the whole group to work together.

How can express the same idea in English?

Edit: I think words like separated is too general, and saying that a group has a lot of subgroup doesn't convey that meaning. Edit: For example, My college is (word/phrase) and everyone sticks to their friends when doing stuff.

  • 1
    'Cliques'? 'Tribes'?
    – JHCL
    Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 14:00
  • Since you added the friends edit, definitely clique.
    – James
    Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 14:02
  • Also, informally you could describe your college as cliquey.
    – James
    Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 14:08

3 Answers 3


The groups sound like cliques:

a ​small ​group of ​people who ​spend ​their ​time together and do not ​welcome other ​people into that ​group: Our ​golf ​club is ​run by a very ​unfriendly clique (of ​people). There's a clique at ​work that never ​talks/who never ​talk to anyone ​else. (-- Cambridge Dictinaries Online)

You can speak of a situation as being "cliquey", in other words a larger group beset by smaller cliques, with a negative effect.

  • I found cliquish is exactly the word I'm looking for.
    – RexYuan
    Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 14:49

You can consider using a Buzz Group as it means:

MARKETING, MEETINGS a ​small ​group of ​people that is ​divided from a larger ​group to ​talk about ​ideas, ​solutions to problems, etc.: "Each ​buzz ​group will discuss one of these topics and ​report back to the whole ​group." [Cambridge Online Dictionary]

However, it doesn't have a negative connotation like "clique" as it is broadly used at work.


I think what you a trying to ask is that there are 'subgroups', small and independent and yet they belong to a larger group. You want a word which conveys characteristically that a group is comprised of smaller independent groups...

If they all belong to a larger group and are yet divided implies that essentially there should be at least one aspect in which these smaller groups are different from each other. Pluralistic can be used for such a group, esp. if we are talking about different religions. In your example disunited might be used..

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