I know that if the subject consists of a couple that got divorced, we don't have to use the word "got", so we can say "John and Jennifer divorced", "His parents divorced", "They divorced" etc. This is an example of it from the Cambridge dictionary: "My parents separated when I was six and divorced a couple of years later." I have seen examples of it in other dictionaries as well.

So, my question is, can we also say

  • "He divorced."
    "My sister divorced last year."
    "John needs to divorce."
    "Just divorce."
    "He might regret it if he divorces." etc.

to mean "He got divorced.", "My sister got divorced last year.", "John needs to get divorced.", "Just get divorced.", "He might regret it if he gets divorced." etc? These sentences have only one person as the subbject as you can see, and in these kind of cases, "get divorced" sounds more familiar to me than "divorce".


3 Answers 3


They have to be 2 persons (a husband and his wife) to be divorced, so the plural

  • they divorced, John and Mary divorced, etc.

is fine, but

  • he / she divorced, John divorced

without mentioning the other person (the spouse) in incorrect. So use

  • he divorced her, John divorced Mary, etc.


  • It is a nitpick, but divorce doesn't only apply to spouses.
    – JRodge01
    Sep 26, 2019 at 17:12

Yes, both are idiomatic but can mean different things.

Technically, when used as a verb, divorce denotes who is the petitioner in a divorce (ie the person who "files" for divorce, or the person who has the legal grounds to request a divorce). For example:

She divorced him.

This would normally mean that the woman (she) petitioned for the divorce, and her husband was the respondent.

"Get a divorce" can mean, idiomatically, that someone has been granted a divorce. To be granted one, you must be the petitioner.

Often though, it is not the intention of the speaker/writer to indicate this, for example:

John and Sue divorced.
John and Sue got divorced.
John and Sue are divorced.

This just shows that the two were married but that now that marriage has been dissolved by divorce.

Bear in mind that any inferred legal meaning of any of these expressions may differ between English-speaking countries if their divorce laws differ. At the present time, anyone petitioning for divorce in the UK must have "grounds", but the future possibility of "no-fault divorce" has been considered by the parliament of the UK. If, in another English-speaking country there was no such legal requirement for "grounds" then perhaps none of the above would carry such inference of who petitioned.

  • Thank you. So you say we can use "divorce" intransitively if the subject (I accidentally wrote it as "object" in the OP and I just changed it) is only one person instead of a couple too? Are sentences like these correct: "He divorced.", "My sister divorced last year.", "John needs to divorce.", "Just divorce.", "He might regret it if he divorces." Sep 26, 2019 at 12:18
  • @FireandIce I'm not sure I fully understand you, but yes, all of those sentences are grammatically correct. "Divorce" can be a noun for the final decree (eg I got a divorce), it can be the name of the process (I am getting divorced) it can be a verb (I'm divorcing you!). As a rule of thumb, I would say that, these days, if you only mention one party then it is ambiguous which direction the divorce went in.
    – Astralbee
    Sep 26, 2019 at 12:25
  • Thanks again. So if we say "John divorced his wife last year," it definitely means he is the one who filed for divorce; but if we say "John divorced last year," it doesn't say anything about who filed for divorce, right? Sep 26, 2019 at 12:35
  • @FireandIce I would say yes, that is how they would be understood.
    – Astralbee
    Sep 26, 2019 at 12:53
  • @Lambie The question was Can we say “He divorced” instead of “He got divorced?. It is important to know the implications of both if you are going to subsitute one for the other because it could change the meaning of what you are saying.
    – Astralbee
    Sep 26, 2019 at 15:12

Divorce is a transitive verb, so there must be a direct object, but it can be implied.

Harry divorces his wife Sally.

Harry and Sally divorced [each other].

If you're using divorce as a noun, then it doesn't need anything extra. This refers to the actual legal order.

Divorce is complicated.

He got a divorce.

In idiomatic American English, you can refer to someone who is the one who didn't file as the one "getting divorced". Usually, it implies the divorce was contested or unwilling.

He got divorced.

  • I agree with your answer except for your last point about the implications of "got divorced." In my experience, this is the most common way to refer to people being divorced and is as close to neutral phrasing as you can get.
    – Katy
    Sep 26, 2019 at 18:43
  • "He is divorced" is a neutral way of saying it. "He got divorced" sounds like he was a passive participant in the process, to me.
    – JRodge01
    Sep 26, 2019 at 18:45
  • If you're trying to put any sort of timeline to it, you can't use "is" (Ex: "He got divorced three years ago") I think your assertion that it "usually" implies the divorce is contested/unwilling is flat wrong.
    – Katy
    Sep 26, 2019 at 18:52
  • You misread my comment--I said you can't use "is."
    – Katy
    Sep 27, 2019 at 1:10
  • @Katy Yup, totally misread your comment. I agree with what I you say for "is".
    – JRodge01
    Sep 27, 2019 at 12:32

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