To make a crowd at a party disperse, you could take away the food, turn off the music and ask for volunteers to clean up. Disperse is to spread out people or things, making them move in different directions.

Imagine yourself standing on a basketball court holding a cup packed tight with marbles. If you turn it over, the marbles will disperse across the floor, moving away from you in all directions. Another word for this is scatter. Don't confuse this word with disburse, which means to distribute money. Remember that false friends disperse when you cease to disburse.

Definitions of disperse
  1. verb
    move away from each other
    “The crowds dispersed
    synonyms: dissipate, scatter, spread out
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    aerosolise, aerosolize
    become dispersed as an aerosol
    scatter or part
    be dispersed in a volley
    type of:
    part, separate, split
    go one's own way; move apart
  2. verb
    distribute loosely
    synonyms: dot, dust, scatter, sprinkle
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    scatter in a mass or jet of droplets
    be discharged in sprays of liquid
    plash, spatter, splash, splatter, splosh, swash
    dash a liquid upon or against
    splash, splosh, sprinkle
    cause (a liquid) to spatter about, especially with force
    dot or sprinkle with sparkling or glittering objects
    aerosolise, aerosolize
    disperse as an aerosol
    spray or sprinkle with
    atomise, atomize
    spray very finely
    spray finely or cover with mist
    spray or irrigate (a body part) with a syringe
    make a puddle by splashing water
    slosh, slosh around, slush, slush around
    spill or splash copiously or clumsily
    sprinkle as if with salt
    drizzle, moisten
    moisten with fine drops
    type of:
    pour forth or release
  3. verb
    cause to separate
    disperse particles”
    synonyms: break up, scatter
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    scatter (radiation) by the atoms of the medium through which it passes
    type of:
    change integrity
    change in physical make-up
  4. verb
    cause to separate and go in different directions
    synonyms: break up, dispel, dissipate, scatter
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    cause to break up or cease to function
    type of:
    divide, separate
    make a division or separation
  5. verb
    cause to become widely known
    synonyms: broadcast, circularise, circularize, circulate, diffuse, disseminate, distribute, pass around, propagate, spread
    circulate, go around, spread
    become widely known and passed on
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    distribute (multimedia files) over the internet for playback on a mobile device or a personal computer
    introduce into an environment
    generalise, generalize, popularise, popularize, vulgarise, vulgarize
    cater to popular taste to make popular and present to the general public; bring into general or common use
    carry, run
    include as the content; broadcast or publicize
    type of:
    air, bare, publicise, publicize
    make public
  6. verb
    separate (light) into spectral rays
    “the prism disperses light”
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    type of:
    divide into components or constituents
Commonly confused words

disperse / disburse

To disperse is to scatter, and to disburse is to pay. Don't get them mixed up — you don't want your money to disperse!

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