According to dictionary explanations, as both transitive and intransitive verbs, all the three options below mean the same thing when it comes to make a crowd or people leave a place or when they leave a place themselves.

if a group of people disperse or are dispersed, they go away in different directions:

  • Police used tear gas to disperse the crowd.

if a group of people or animals scatter, or if something scatters them, they move quickly in different directions:

  • The sound of gunfire made the crowd scatter in all directions.

Break up:
to make people leave a place where they have been meeting or protesting

  • Police moved in to break up the meeting.
  • The crowd broke up slowly.

Then, I was wondering if they are interchangeable in the following examples. If they aren't please let me know why as almost all reliable online dictionaries have defined them as quite close synonymous words in this case.

1 - Police ........ the crowd.
a. dispersed
b. scattered
c. broke up

  1. The protesters .......... at almost 6 o'clock.

a. dispersed
b. scattered
c. broke up

I think, they all mean the same in this sense and can be used interchangeably in either case above. However, I have my doubts and need someone let me know about it.

1 Answer 1


To me, "dispersed" is a more polished word than "scattered". Also, "scattered" tends to imply being in a hurry and in fear, e.g. rats scattered when they saw the cat. So either word can fit both sentences, just depends on how you want to portrait the police and the protesters.

"Broke up" is different than the other 2 words. It focuses on the initial splitting up of the crowd, but the other 2 words focus on the spreading out of the crowd.

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