The Pharaoh saw the sea splitting. That was not enough of a miracle for him: he still led his army through. Suddenly, the sea began to ...

Is there a verb that would specifically describe the sea uniting/closing?

  • Does your word have to apply to the entire sea, or could it apply to the walls of water the original splitting creates?
    – barbecue
    Commented Jun 9, 2019 at 16:16
  • @barbecue I haven't thought of that. I would be inclined to think the second option you mentioned.
    – blackened
    Commented Jun 9, 2019 at 16:20
  • I don't think there's a single verb that describes it perfectly. "The sea (or the walls) began to close up" or "to close upon them"? Commented Jun 9, 2019 at 16:26
  • We've perhaps been over-conditioned by the film version. The Bible mentions that a scientifically explicable agent (there may have been others), an intensely strong East wind, was involved in the parting of the 'Red Sea'; if this was active locally (as would have been necessary if this was the only agent involved in holding back towering walls) there would have been a hurricane blowing between the walls. Commented Jun 9, 2019 at 16:31
  • Kudos to the examples above, but mind using a word that implies a sharp change in the same sentence as began - suddenly, the sea began to collapse. Unless your intention is to hold the readers thoughts on this sentence for a little while that is. Commented Jun 9, 2019 at 17:23

3 Answers 3


There is nothing wrong with "closed".

Before they could retreat, the sea closed in on them at Moses' command.


... through the waves, and when Pharaoh's soldiers followed, the sea closed in again.


That afternoon the sea closed in round us again.


Then, first sinking back a little at the stern, I thought, she slid slowly forwards through the water and dived slantingly down; the sea closed over her and we had seen the last of the beautiful ship on which we had embarked four days before ...


The ship sank down at the howling of the storm, And the sea closed over my lover's form.


A few moments, and the sea closed over all, and nearly 500 souls were swept into eternity.


The injury done to her was too extensive to save her, and at 9.50 p.m. the sea closed over the last of the German raiders in that vicinity.


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    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 4, 2022 at 21:58

In your specific example, I would use the word collapse. It means to fall or crumble suddenly, or to deflate or sink rapidly.

So with your example something like this:

The Pharaoh saw the sea splitting. That was not enough of a miracle for him: he still led his army through. Suddenly, the sea began to collapse in on the army.

This answer is based on the assumption that the sea parting leaves a gap below the level of the sea, with water on either side. The water collapses because it rushes downward to fill the empty gap.

If you interpreted the parting of the sea as the sea receding away, leaving a flat plain behind, then when the water returned I would use a phrase like "the sea rushed in" instead.

  • There seems to be something a bit circular in the definition that collapse means to collapse suddenly. I’m not sure it’s the right word, either. Collapsing is what happens when something which is holding or supporting something in a position not in itself stable ceases to hold or support. It is a downward motion caused by a sudden lack of something to hold back the force of gravity. If the sea splits (Biblically), closing that gap isn’t really a collapse. Commented Jun 9, 2019 at 18:01
  • @JanusBahsJacquet I specifically asked the OP if he was referring to the entire sea, or to the walls of water created by the parting of the sea. He responded that he was talking about the latter, so that's what my answer refers to. I've edited the redundant definition.
    – barbecue
    Commented Jun 9, 2019 at 18:36
  • ... 'Walls of water' may give the wrong impression. Though the Egyptians seemed more able to accept miracles than many today (Jannes & Jambres and the snakes etc), I'm not sure they would have ventured into a virtual tunnel with 100ft-high walls of water on either side. Commented Jun 9, 2019 at 18:59
  • @EdwinAshworth Since we're talking about a Biblical story, I assume we're using the story as-is, and that means walls of water. It's interesting to speculate about possible explanations for the description, but the original story is pretty clear.
    – barbecue
    Commented Jun 9, 2019 at 19:45
  • As for why the Egyptians might have risked it, Exodus 14:17 covers that... "...I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall follow them..."
    – barbecue
    Commented Jun 9, 2019 at 19:48

The Oxford Learner's Dictionary defines close over as a phrasal verb meaning

to surround and cover somebody/something

With the example

The water closed over his head.

However it is a transitive verb so must have an object. That is to say that you would have to write "The sea began to close over his army." rather than "The sea began to close over." because the latter would be meaningless and ungrammatical. Saying "The sea began to close." without the word 'over' and an object would be grammatical but would not be ideomatic, it's not normal English.

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