Intermediate+ Word of the Day: scatter

scatter (verb, noun) /ˈskætɚ/ LISTEN

To scatter means ‘to throw or toss loosely about.’ If we are talking about people or animals it means ‘to disperse or drive off in different directions’ or ‘to separate, disperse, or go in different directions.’ As a noun, a scatter is the act of scattering or something that is scattered.

Example sentences

  • The farmer scattered seed across the field.
  • The police scattered the crowd.
  • When gunshots were heard, everyone scattered.
  • The crowd's scatter emptied the square in minutes.
  • There was a scatter of clothes on the floor of the teenager's bedroom.

In pop culture

Listen to the Kinks singing “Scattered” here:

Did you know?

A scatterbrain is someone who is absent minded (that means forgetful or not paying attention) and finds it difficult to concentrate on one thing. It’s as though the person’s brain is scattered in lots of different directions, instead of being focused on what they should be thinking about. We often use this term humorously or even affectionately, but be careful about using it with anyone you don’t know well—they might be insulted if you call them a scatterbrain.

Other forms

scatterable (adjective), scatterer (noun)


Scatter, meaning ‘to throw something loosely about’ or ‘to disperse animals or people,’ dates back to the mid-12th century, as the Middle English verb scateren or skateren. Some linguists think that scateren emerged as a northern variant of schateren (now shatter), while others think that scateren was the main verb, and schateren was the variant. Both can be traced back to the Old English verb sceaterian, possibly influenced by Old Norse, and the Proto-Indo-European skēi-t-, the passive participle of the root skey– (to cut, split or shatter). Scatter is related to the Low German schateren (to shatter), the Old Dutch schetteren (to shatter) and the Dutch schateren (to burst out laughing). The intransitive sense, ‘to go off in different directions,’ first appeared in the early 15th century. Scatter has been used as a noun since the mid-17th century. The expression scatterbrain (also scatter-brain as well as shatterbrain or shatter-brain), meaning ‘a thoughtless giddy person,’ or someone who cannot concentrate on one thing,’ was first used in the mid-18th century.

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