Break vs. Brake: What’s the Difference?

In English, there are countless words that sound exactly the same when you read them out loud but turn out to have completely different meanings. The grammatical term for words like these is homophone. This means they sound alike but are spelled differently and have different meanings. Break vs. brake is an example of a set of homophones.

What is the Difference Between Break and Brake?

Since these words are so close in their spelling—and identical in their pronunciation—it’s that much more important to keep track of them and not mix them up. In today’s post, I want to go over the definitions of these two words, what separates them from each other, and give you a few tips to remember their difference.

When to Use Break

is-it-Brake-or-breakBreak can be used as a verb and a noun, and as a verb, break can be both transitive and intransitive. This means that sometimes break will take an object and sometimes it won’t. For example,

  • Don’t trust him; he will break your heart.
  • My arm broke from the fall.

The first sentence, break is being used as a transitive verb and takes the object heart. In the second sentence, break is being used as an intransitive verb and doesn’t need an object.

The verb to break has many different meanings in both forms, but most of them focus around one central meaning: an interruption of continuity such as to cause to separate into pieces suddenly or violently; to snap off or detach; to crack with separating into piece. For example,

  • She broke the glass. (transitive)
  • The toy broke due to its cheap construction. (intransitive)

Break can also be used as a noun, meaning an act or action of breaking. For example,

  • We’ve been working all day. When can we expect a break?
  • There was a break in the dam.
  • Everyday basketball game has one halftime break.

When to Use Brake

Brake can be used as a verb and a noun also. The most common usage of brake is when referring to your car. The device used to stop your car from a moving position is a brake and when you use it to stop your car, it is called braking. For example,

  • Don’t forget to apply the parking brake. (noun)
  • Another driver cut me off and I had to brake suddenly. (verb)

Brake also has a few specialized meanings that are very rare in modern usage.

In the middle ages, a brake was a toothed instrument used for separating out the fiber of flax or hemp, and modern day factories have a machine called a brake that is used for bending, folding, and flanging sheet metal.

These are both technical uses, however, and you will very rarely find yourself using them.

Remember the Difference

A good trick to remember the difference between these words is to think of break as breakfast. You take a break to have breakfast.

If you can remember this, you will be able to keep it separated from brake.

Summary

These two words have different meanings so it’s important to keep brake vs. break apart.

Break can be a verb and a noun. As a verb, it means to shatter, to crack, to make unusable. As a noun, it means an action or action of breaking.

Brake can also be used as a verb and a noun. As a verb, it means to use the brakes on a vehicle. As a noun, it refers to the mechanical device used to stop cars while moving.

Leave a Comment