AFAIU, there's a phrase by Abraham Lincoln (and maybe Bible before that, I'm not sure, but it doesn't matter) 'a house divided against itself cannot stand'.

I guess I somewhat understand the meaning of the phrase, but I certainly don't have a precise understanding of what 'divide against itself' means.

Does it mean just to divide (oneself) into peaces? Or is it something like conspire against itself?

And thus as a side question, can it be used with other 'object' as 'oneself'? Like 'divide against somebody (else)'.

1 Answer 1


You are right that it was originally a Biblical quotation (specifically Matthew 12:25).

A group that is "divided against itself" has factionalized, broken into groups that feel more loyalty and unity with themselves than with the whole, with the factions actively working against one another for the gain of their individual faction, rather than the group or organization as a whole. A group may be divided by various means, but if they all work towards to the good of the whole group, then it is not divided against itself.

It should also be note that a "house", in addition to meaning a physical dwelling structure, can also mean a lineage, dynasty or family. For example, the current British monarch is from the royal house of Windsor.

The full quote of Matthew 12:25 is

But he knew what they were thinking and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste, and no town or house divided against itself will stand.

(Source: http://www.usccb.org/bible/matthew/12), and thus we can see through parallelism that "house" is being used in its organizational, rather than physical structure, sense.

  • 2
    @shanur has provided a good answer for what the expression means. To add a comment on the grammar involved, the words 'against itself' are effectively redundant. Readers already know that from the work 'divided'. The choice to use redundant words is a matter of style and oratory. Doing so tends to add emphasis. The reflexive pronouns, -self words, are often used just to add some drama to a statement. Consider the difference between 'I do that too' and 'I do that myself too'. They mean the exactly same thing; the only difference is the speaker wanting to add importance to their statement. Commented Dec 12, 2018 at 5:37

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .