a. A secondary woody stem or limb growing from the trunk or main stem of a tree or shrub or from another secondary limb.
b. A lateral division or subdivision of certain other plant parts, such as a root or flower cluster.
2. Something that resembles a branch of a tree, as in form or function, as:
a. A secondary outgrowth or subdivision of a main axis, such as the tine of a deer's antlers.
b. Anatomy An offshoot or a division of the main portion of a structure, especially that of a nerve, blood vessel, or lymphatic vessel; a ramus.
3. A limited part of a larger or more complex unit or system, especially:
a. An area of specialized skill or knowledge, especially academic or vocational, that is related to but separate from other areas: the judicial branch of government; the branch of medicine called neurology.
b. A division of a business or other organization.
c. A division of a family, categorized by descent from a particular ancestor.
d. Linguistics A subdivision of a family of languages, such as the Germanic branch of Indo-European.
a. A tributary of a river.
c. A divergent section of a river, especially near the mouth.
5. Mathematics A part of a curve that is separated, as by discontinuities or extreme points.
a. A sequence of program instructions to which the normal sequence of instructions relinquishes control, depending on the value of certain variables.
b. The instructions executed as the result of such a passing of control.
7. Chemistry A bifurcation in a linear chain of atoms, especially in an organic molecule where isomeric hydrocarbon groups can vary in the location and number of these bifurcations of the carbon chain.
v. branched, branch·ing, branch·es
1. To put forth a branch or branches; spread by dividing.
2. To come forth as a branch or subdivision; develop or diverge from: an unpaved road that branches from the main road; a theory that branches from an older system of ideas.
3. Computers To relinquish control to another set of instructions or another routine as a result of the presence of a branch.
1. To separate (something) into branches.
2. To embroider (something) with a design of foliage or flowers.
To diverge from a main body or path: a new faction that branched off from an established political party.
1. To develop branches or tributaries: a river that branches out into a delta.
2. To expand the scope of one's interests or activities: a knitter who branched out into crocheting.
[Middle English, from Old French branche, from Late Latin branca, paw, perhaps from Gaulish *branka; perhaps akin to Lithuanian ranka and Russian *ruka, hand.]
Synonyms: branch, arm1, fork, offshoot
These nouns denote something resembling or structurally similar to a limb of a tree: a branch of a railroad; an arm of the sea; the western fork of the river; an offshoot of a mountain range.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.