The OED has a fascinating rundown of the dizzying array of past tense and past participle forms of both words over the centuries, but I sense it’s time to cut to the finish line and give you the long story short. So the existing past tense forms of “cleave” in the “split” sense are “clove,” “clave,” “cleaved” and “cleft,” and the past participle forms are “cloven,” “cloved,” “cleaved” and “cleft.” In the “adhere” sense we have “cleaved” and “clave” again for the past tense and “cleaved” for the past participle. Practically speaking, “cleaved” is probably the most popular past tense form for both words, though “cleft” for “split” is more poetic, and the participial “cloven” (“having been split”) is one of my favorite words. “Clooved,” incidentally, is a very creative, but historically non-existent, word.

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4 comments on this post.
  1. Steve Dunham:

    I like the One Look Dictionaries website (, which offers definitions from numerous sources.

  2. 13 Thoughts Headed into the Weekend | Nathan Beaver:

    […] did you know “biweekly” can mean both twice a week AND every two weeks? And that “cleave” is its own antonym? And that “regardless” and “irregardless” mean […]

  3. Constance:

    Thanks SO much! Family debate during miserable quarantine finally produced an answer. We found the OED impenetrable on this word, which we now know are really these words.

  4. Richard G.:

    A cleaver is a large knife that varies in its shape but usually resembles a rectangular-bladed hatchet. It is largely used as a kitchen or butcher knife and is mostly intended for splitting up large pieces of soft bones and slashing through thick pieces of meat.

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