Separate vs. seperate?

Separate is one of the most common misspelled words in the English language. Between separate and seperate, the correct word to use is separate. “Seperate” is not an English word.

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What is the difference between separate vs. seperate?

No matter how literate you are, there are certain spelling errors we continuously struggle with, such as separate vs. seperate. We’d love to tell you that there’s a difference between the two terms, but the truth is that seperate is simply a common misspelling of the word separate

The English language uses the word separate for many different circumstances, whether it’s written as a noun, adjective, verb, or adverb. We use separate in terms like separately, separation, and separateness, or for phrases like separate the wheat from the chaff or separation of church and state in the United States. Regardless of how we write it, seperate is not the correct spelling of separate

How to remember the difference between separate vs. seperate?

One of the reasons separate is easily misspelled is because English speakers often write the word as it’s pronounced: sep-er-ate. English dictionaries break down separate’s three syllables as “sep-a-rate,” where the letter “a” after “sept-” is pronounced as “-er-” or barely pronounced at all.  

To overcome this common misspelling and pronunciation error, we can use a mnemonic to help us remember to use the letter “a” instead of the letter “e”: 

“There’s a rat in separate.”

Remember: There’s a-rat in sep-a-rat-e. Not e-rat in sep-e-rat-e. 

What does separate mean?

The word separate is used as a verb, adjective, and noun to describe detachment, individuality, alienation, segregation, and more. We began using the word separate in the English language as a verb and adjective around the 15th century. 

The use of separate began as a Middle English word and derived from the Latin word separatus. The Latin term separatus consists of the past participle of separare, which uses se- for “apart” and parare for “preparation.” We can also see these roots in English words like secede and pare

Separate as a verb

As a verb, the word separate is flexible in how it describes actions or objects in the past, present, and future tense. We use separate for the present tense and separated for simple past tense and as the past participle. For past and future perfect continuous, we use separating

When describing the word separate, we can define the infinitive to separate as an intransitive or transitive verb. As a transitive verb, the word separate defines six different actions:

  1. To disconnect, distinguish, sort, or scatter something from another.
  2. To dedicate or choose something for a specific purpose.
  3. To legally separate something or someone from another, such as divorce. 
  4. To segregate or block one or more objects or groups from another. 
  5. To extract something or isolate a substance from a mixture or to purify individual elements from a compound. 
  6. To dislocate or disjoint a body part during physical activity. 

If we use the word separate as an intransitive verb, we use it in four ways: 

  1. To become unconnected or disconnected from a whole.
  2. To withdraw oneself from an association to another person.
  3. To go to various, different places.
  4. To become extracted or isolated from a compound or mixture.

Synonyms of separate as a verb:

Break up, cleave, detach, disassociate, disconnect, disjoint, dissociate, divide, divorce, part, ramify, sever, split, sunder, uncouple, unlink. 

Antonyms of separate as a verb:

Connect, join, link, unify, unite.

Separate as an adjective

We use the word separate as an adjective to describe:

  1. Being or feeling detached, secluded, or disembodied. 
  2. Individual or unshared with others, or estranged from an origin. 
  3. Existing autonomously or alone. 
  4. The state of feeling alienated from one’s identity or natural disposition. 

Synonyms of separate as an adjective:

Autonomous, different, independent, individual, respective, sovereign, unique. 

Antonyms of separate as an adjective:

Connected, one, same, together, united. 

Separate as a noun

As a noun, we use the word separate for two different definitions:

  1. An offprint, or an excerpt that is printed independently from a collection of publications, like an article of writing. 
  2. A garment that is worn with multiple outfits or costumes. 

Terms that derive from separate

Separation

The word separation is a noun that describes the process of separating and the condition of being isolated or disconnected. For example,

“Young children often experience separation anxiety.”

Synonyms of separation:

Breakup, cleavage, detachment, division, estrangement, fractionalization, scission, severance, split.  

Separateness

We can use our understanding of separate as an adjective to use the noun separateness, which is the state of detachment, seclusion, individuality, alienation, etc.

“The separateness of modernity began with industrialism.” 

Synonyms of separateness:

Aloneness, individualism, isolation, seclusion, segregation, singleness, singularity, solitude.

Separately

The word separately is an adverb, which means it’s a word that qualifies another adjective, noun, verb, or phrase to describe a condition of being (see FAQ for more on adverbs). We use separately as an adverb in sentences to express the separation of sentence objects. For example,

“Your shipments will arrive separately.” 

Synonyms of separately:

Apart, disjointly, individually, one by one, one at a time, singly, severally. 

How to use separate in a sentence?

Learning how to use separate as an adjective, noun, and a verb is pretty straight forward, but there are also instances where we can use the word separate within English phrases too. Let’s break down the different ways we can use separate with a few example sentences along the way.

How to use separate as an adjective

As most of you know, an adjective is a word that describes a sentence object. So in the case of separate, we are describing something as different from a whole, as a distinct and individual part, or many objects that are unconnected or physically isolated. For example,

“Globalism and globalization are two separate issues.”
“We teach architecture and engineering on separate campuses.” 

The trick to using separate as an adjective is to make sure that we use it descriptively as opposed to an action. For the first example, the main action occurs with the word “are” of the verb “to be.” With its adjective meaning, the word separate describes the two issues as existing apart from each other. 

The same explanation applies to the second example sentence, but instead of “to be,” we use the verb “to teach.” In this case, the disciplines are taught in different locations. 

Let’s take a look at a few more example sentences using separate as an adjective: 

“The parents sleep in separate rooms.”
“We can break up the candy into separate parts.”
“We must go our separate ways.”

How to use separate as a noun

The most common way to use separate as a noun is to describe individual garments worn with several different outfits. For instance, if you possess a gray shirt that looks good with jeans, sweatpants, or dress pants, your gray shirt is called a separate

“Every wardrobe needs a little black dress to wear as a separate or a statement outfit in itself.” 
“It’s best to buy clothes as separates instead of garments that have one appropriate setting.” 

We also use separate as a noun in place of the word “offprint,” although its use in English is limited to specific instances. For instance, an offprint is an article that is printed apart from a complete publication, such a magazine. So the chances of most English speakers using the word separate in this instance are fairly low. 

How to use separate as a verb in the past, present, and future tense

When used as a verb, we can write the word separate as either separate, separated, or separating. But how we use any infinitive verb depends on the past, present, and future tense, and how we pair verbs with subject pronouns. 

When to use separate in a sentence

Present tense

In the present tense, we use the word separate with all subject pronouns. But if we’re using the plural present tense with the pronouns he, she, or it, be sure to add the letter s at the end, as in separates.

For example,

I/you: You separate the laundry well. 
He/she/it: She separates the laundry by color.
We/they: We separate the laundry by the material. 

Future tense

We can use any pronoun with separate in the future tense, but make sure to use the word “will” after the pronoun and before the word separate

For example,

I/you: Later tonight, I will separate the estate.
He/she/it: She will separate from her boyfriend.
We/they: They will separate later. 

The imperative mood

Since it’s a command or request, the imperative mood of the verb separate occurs as “let’s separate.” 

For example,

Let’s separate later on.

When to use separated in a sentence

Past participle

The past participle of separate is separated and used grammatically as an adjective.

For example,

I/you: I separated my shoulder.
He/she/it: It separated.
We/they: We separated incomes.

Perfect participle

As with the past participle, the perfect participle of separate is used as an adjective as separated. But instead of using separated on its own, the perfect participle requires the use of “having” before separated. The key here is to use separated with a pre-existing condition before describing a situation that exists in the present.

For example, 

I/you: Having separated before, I do not know where he lives now. 
He/she/it: Having separated bank accounts, she was unaware of the charges.
We/they: Having separated paths, we no longer stay in touch. 

Simple past tense

We use separated for the simple past tense to describe something that happened or existed before the present. 

For example,

I/you: I separated from the group at 5 p.m. 
He/she/it: She separated the pantry. 
We/they: They separated their income. 

Present perfect

When using separated in the present perfect, we must pair the pronouns I, you, we, or they with have and she, he, or it with has. 

For example,

I/you: You have separated the keys.
He/she/it: He has separated the New York Times from the Washington Post. 
We/they: They have separated their shoes.

Future perfect

When it comes to the future perfect tense, we use the word separated after the phrase “will have” or “will not have” to describe a future event that will occur before a different time. 

For example,

I/you: I will not have separated my assets by then. 
He/she/it: It will have separated by noon. 
We/they: We will have separated before then. 

When to use separating in a sentence

Present participle

Writing verbs in the present participle is what gives the “-ing” at the end of the verb. For the sake of example, it’s easier to show this tense in the form of a question, but it’s not necessary to use it as such.

For example,

I/you: Are you separating the fruit?
He/she/it: Is he separating produce?
We/they: Are they separating vegetables?

Present continuous

When using the form separating in present continuous, be sure your message indicates that the act of separating is a continuous process. In addition, be sure to use “am” with I, “are” with you, we, or they, and “is” with he, she, or it.

For example,

I: I am separating the socks.
You: You are separating from her?
He/she/it: She is separating the dinner check. 
We/they: They are separating for good. 

Present perfect continuous

The present perfect continuous tense pairs the two auxiliary words “have been,” with the present participle, separating. To use this tense, keep in mind that “have” is in the present tense but “be” is a past participle. 

For example,

I/you: I have been separating all day. 
He/she/it: He has been separating time slots. 
We/they: We have been separating tickets. 

Past perfect continuous

We use the past perfect continuous tense to describe a past action that occurred before another past action began. To achieve is, we use two past tense auxiliary terms “had been” in front of separating.

For example,

I/you: You had been separating
He/she/it: He had been separating.
We/they: They had been separating

Future perfect continuous

The future perfect continuous tense describes a future action that has already begun and will continue for an indefinite amount of time. To illustrate this, we use “will have been” in front of separating in a sentence. 

For example,

I/you: I will have been separating.
He/she/it: It will have been separating.
We/they: They will have been separating

FAQ: Related to separate vs. seperate

How do you spell separate in the UK?

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, British English and American English use the same spelling for separate. British English speakers do, however, place more emphasis on the “-er-” pronunciation than Americans, who normally pronounce the word with a silent “a.” 

What is an adverb?

Adverbs help provide descriptive context, such as how, where, when, how much, or how often. Other common adverbs include: carefully, easily, outside, already, fairly, and normally

Test Yourself!

Between separate vs. seperate, do you know which one is correct? Test your grammar know-how with the following multiple-choice questions:

  1. Decide if “separate” is a noun, adjective, verb, or adverb in the following sentence: “I attend a separate church.” 
    1. Adverb
    2. Verb
    3. Adjective
    4. Noun
  2. Which term is synonymous with separate
    1. Divorce
    2. Chaff
    3. Fettered 
    4. Subjugated
  3. Which of the following terms is not a definition of seperate?
    1. Offprint
    2. Different
    3. Autonomous 
    4. All of the above
  4. We use the verb “separated” for what tense?
    1. Past perfect continuous
    2. Perfect participle
    3. Future perfect
    4. B and C
  5. The statement, “They’ve separated for good,” is written in which verb tense?
    1. Future perfect continuous
    2. Present perfect
    3. Past perfect continuous
    4. Future perfect

Answers

  1. C
  2. A
  3. D; seperate is not a word. 
  4. D
  5. B

Sources

  1. Separate.” Cambridge Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, 2020.
  2. Separate.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
  3. Separate.” Reverso Conjugation, Reverso-Softissimo, 2019.
  4. Separate.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  5. Separately.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  6. Separateness.” The Merriam-Webster.com Thesaurus, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
  7. Separation.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.