Divide vs. subdivide

Albertovna

Senior Member
Russian - Russia
Dear all,

I do not understand the difference between the verbs divide and subdivide. Both presuppose division into parts. This question is quite important to me, because I work with scientific English, which requires especially accurate translation.

Delaware is subdivided into three counties; from north to south they are New Castle, Kent County and Sussex (source: Wikipedia).

Why does the author prefer to use subdivided?
I think that subdivide sometimes presupposes more minute division than divide (first something is divided and then subdivided). However, this is not the case in the example sentence. Does it matter if the parts have names or not?
 
  • cyberpedant

    Senior Member
    English USA, Northeast, NYC
    I'd have said "divided." But "subdivided" might have some legal weight that I'm not aware of. I don't think the names have any particular effect on usage here.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    I just looked at Wikipedia and it uses "divided" and has done for many revisions. Is the Wiki you use different from my link (en.wikipedia.org)? In any case, the first line states that it is a US state. One could argue that divisions within states are therefore subdivisions, but I won't :D
     

    Albertovna

    Senior Member
    Russian - Russia
    I just looked at Wikipedia and it uses "divided" and has done for many revisions. Is the Wiki you use different from my link (en.wikipedia.org)? In any case, the first line states that it is a US state. One could argue that divisions within states are therefore subdivisions, but I won't :D
    I use en.wikipedia.org, too. This article has two similar passages. Mine is located below yours.

    From the answers given I conclude that there is no significant difference, right? Also, I wonder if the prefix sub- can be used twice in one sentence. For example, a geologic formation (group of rocks) is subdivided into several subformations - can I say so? (Or only divided?) Is this not tautology?
     
    Last edited:

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    I use en.wikipedia.org, too. This article has two similar passages. Mine is located below yours.

    From the answers given I conclude that there is no significant difference, right? Also, I wonder if the prefix sub- can be used twice in one sentence. For example, a geologic formation (group of rocks) is subdivided into several subformations - can I say so? (Or only divided?) Is this not tautology?
    I'm not sure if the editors of the Delaware entry have studied the entry on country subdivision, but they might have! It seems the word is used in a variety of ways :D
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    My take on this:
    divide - to separate in a certain manner whereby the new parts become more or less independent
    subdivide - to divide but the newly formed "chunks" remain part of the previous whole
     
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