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I am trying to find out when the following phrase is correct and what is a better choice for the cases where it is not:

... (1) divides into ... (2)

Examples

  • Example 1: (1) is for example a country and (2) are states: "The US divides into 51 states"
  • Example 2: (1) is a river which branches (gets split up) into several arms at one point, or a corridor: "The corridor starts in Bulgaria, crosses Turkey and then divides into two branches, one along the coast to Syria, Libya, Israel and Egypt, and the other through the Syrian and Jordanian plateaux" (source), "the river divides into several arms (furcation) and it begins to flow in bends" (source), more examples see linguee
  • Example 3: (1) consists of several subparts, e.g. a software program consists of components: "The software divides into data integration and data import/export." (source)

My assumptions

I think in general "divides into" is a bad choice if it means (1) is composed of (made up of) various parts.

It may be a good choice, if (1) is actually being split up at one point, like the river in example 2.

I think example 2 is ok, but the phrases in example 1 and 3 do not feel quite right.

My question

Are my assumptions correct? What would be better?

  • consists of?
  • comprises?
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    What's the 51st state? – Eddie Kal Aug 30 '18 at 14:21
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I think that you are correct with your assumptions, and where you are getting hung up is that divide is commonly used in the passive voice. For examples 1 and 3, it is natural to use the passive voice, as you have the sentences constructed.

The US is divided into 50 states.

Here, the implicit actors are the statesmen who have carved out the states' boundaries over the past 200+ years. If, instead, you would like to make this be in the active voice, without referencing those statesmen, you could use something like:

50 states make up the US.

For the third example, we would say:

The software can be divided into data integration and data import/export.

Here, the implicit actors could be assumed to be the software developers who would have designed the software with those different segments. Here, if you want to use the active voice, it would be natural to use one of your suggestions:

The software consists of data integration and data import/export components.

In the second example, we ascribe a sort of sentience to nature, and so it is natural for us to say that the river divides, as though it has chosen to divide itself, just as we would say that cells divide themselves during mitosis.

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    Those statesmen would have carved out the state boundaries rather than carved them up. forum.wordreference.com/threads/carve-out-vs-carve-up.3375230 – Ronald Sole Aug 30 '18 at 16:41
  • @RonaldSole Thanks. When I was typing it out, I was thinking of carving up the US, but obviously, I used the states' boundaries as my object, so they would have been carved out. Fixed that. – mathewb Aug 30 '18 at 19:13
  • Comprise would be better, e.g. The United States is comprised of 50 states or The software is comprised of data integration and data import/export components (although I rather don't mind consists of in the second example). – Jim MacKenzie Aug 30 '18 at 19:31

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