v. dis·trib·ut·ed, dis·trib·ut·ing, dis·trib·utes
1. To divide and dispense in portions.
a. To supply (goods) to retailers.
b. To deliver or pass out: distributing handbills on the street.
a. To place in separate pieces or examples over an area; scatter: distribute grass seed over the lawn.
b. To apportion so as to be evenly spread throughout a given area: 180 pounds of muscle that were well distributed over his 6-foot frame.
4. To separate into categories; classify.
5. Logic To use (a term) so as to include all individuals or entities of a given class.
Mathematics To be distributive. If a × (b + c) = a × b + a × c, then × distributes over +.
[Middle English distributen, from Latin distribuere, distribūt- : dis-, apart; see DIS- + tribuere, to give; see TRIBUTE.]
Synonyms: distribute, apportion, divide, dispense, dole1, deal1, ration
These verbs mean to give out in portions or shares. Distribute is the least specific: The government distributed land to settlers.
Apportion and divide imply giving out portions, often equal, on the basis of a plan or purpose: The funds were apportioned to each school district. The estate will be divided among the heirs.
Dispense stresses the careful determination of portions, often according to measurement or weight: The pharmacist dispensed the medication.
Dole, often followed by out, implies careful, usually sparing measurement of portions. It can refer to the distribution of charity: The city doled out surplus milk to the needy.
Deal implies orderly, equitable distribution, often piece by piece: I dealt five cards to each player.
Ration refers to equitable division in limited portions of scarce, often necessary, items: The government rationed fuel during the war.
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.