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Etymology 1[edit]

From Middle English clift, from Old English ġeclyft, from Proto-Germanic *(ga)kluftiz. Compare Dutch klucht (chaotic), Swedish klyft (cave, den) cave, den, German Kluft. See cleave.


cleft (plural clefts)

  1. An opening, fissure, or V-shaped indentation made by or as if by splitting.
  2. A piece made by splitting.
    a cleft of wood
  3. A disease of horses; a crack on the band of the pastern.
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cleft (third-person singular simple present clefts, present participle clefting, simple past and past participle clefted)

  1. (linguistics) To syntactically separate a prominent constituent from the rest of the clause that concerns it, such as threat in "The threat which I saw but which he didn't see, was his downfall."
    • 1983, John Haiman, Pamela Munro, editors, Switch-reference and Universal Grammar: Proceedings of a Symposium on Switch Reference and Universal Grammar, Winnipeg, May 1981:
      This may be so because in most languages the most natural clefting involves NP's, and it is in fact hard in most languages to cleft the verb, although some — notably Kwa languages in West-Africa — allow such clefting.
    • 2002, Claire Lefebvre, A Grammar of Fongbe, page 521:
      When the affected object is clefted, the clefted constituent may be assigned a contrastive reading on the event denoted by the clause, as is shown in (62).
    • 2013, Katharina Hartmann, Cleft Structures, page 270:
      The strategy the language employs is to cleft the clause containing the wh-phrase, as exemplified in (3) []
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Etymology 2[edit]



  1. simple past tense and past participle of cleave


cleft (not comparable)

  1. split, divided, or partially divided into two.
    Synonym: cloven
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Borrowed from Greek κλέφτης (kléftis).


cleft m (plural clefți)

  1. klepht