English has several words to describe tearing of something. What is the correct order of severity among these candidates?

tear, rip, rend, rive

I am mainly confused about the last two.

More words for the list?

  • Your first stop should be a dictionary. What are the definitions for each of these words? Then if you're looking for more words for the list, try looking in a thesaurus. Aug 5, 2016 at 12:28
  • 1
    Does 'rive' really mean 'tear? For starters, it is only used in the past participle 'riven' and would generally refer to something monolithic which had been split, rather than a sheet material which might be ripped. Logs or rocks might be riven, but a page never would.
    – Spagirl
    Aug 5, 2016 at 13:03
  • Include in your question the research you’ve done. Questions which lack results of research may be closed. (more)
    – MetaEd
    Aug 5, 2016 at 16:01

1 Answer 1


Your current order seems correct.

tear < rip < rend < rive


to separate parts of or pull apart by force


to tear, split, or open (something) quickly or violently


to tear (something) into pieces with force or violence


to divide or split (something) especially in a forceful or violent way

Rend and rive could be swapped, as rend gives the impression that the object will be in more, smaller pieces as a result, however rive gives me the impression of a much more violent, single action, as opposed to rend feeling more furious, but less overall force.

The following is at least how I associate the words in my mind, but this may be different from person to person.

Tear usually is associated with lighter fabrics, such as paper. Rip, I tend to associate with a bit firmer, cloth-like fabrics, such as cotton or linen. Rend gives the impression of tearing/ripping flesh or a thicker, leather-like substance. Finally, rive is a word I might associate with more solid objects, such as a door, or an entire large object.

Of course, it would be a given that the stronger words could be used with the lighter, more delicate fabrics to paint an even more forceful version of the action.

Again, the above is my personal impressions of these words, so another individual may see it differently.

Note: As I pointed out in the definitions and my impressions of the words, rive has a feeling of splitting a solid object. So to keep your word-list similar, I would probably replace rive with shred.

tear < rip < rend < shred

Rive would fit more in a list of words such as:

fracture < split < cleave < rive

  • that's a great answer, thanks. Unfortunately, this question is not liked by many and I may delete it if that does not improve. Aug 5, 2016 at 12:56
  • @DarshanChaudhary You won't be able to delete the question. However, you may be able to improve it acting on the suggestions already made.
    – Andrew Leach
    Aug 5, 2016 at 14:10

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