Breakdown or Break Down: What’s the Difference?

While listening to someone speak, have you ever thought you heard him or her say one word, but noticed that in context, it was used differently than what you’re used to hearing?

This confusion stems from homophones in the English language—words that sound alike but don’t mean the same thing.

Breakdown and break down are homophones. One is a noun; one is a verb; and neither is used as any other part of speech at any time. If you aren’t sure whether you are hearing breakdown or break down, reading this article will help you know.

What is the Difference Between Breakdown and Break Down?

In this article, I will compare breakdown vs break down. As part of this comparison, I will use them both in a sentence to illustrate the proper context of each. Plus, I will outline a useful memory tool to help you remember if break down or breakdown is correct, depending on how you plan to use the term.

When to Use Breakdown

Definition of break down definition of breakdown definitionWhat does breakdown mean? Breakdown functions as a noun. It refers to a cessation of function or a subdivision of items within a broader category, often on a financial document.

For example,

  • If Jake walks more than two batters on Tuesday I will suffer a mental breakdown.
  • Stay off the freeway if you want to arrive to work on time; there is a breakdown just before exit 30.
  • See the breakdown on page 2 for an itemized list of expenses.
  • Here’s a breakdown of what we observed this week and how it might apply to the bigger picture. –The Wall Street Journal

As you can see, in the sense where something stops working, breakdown can be literal or metaphorical. During a typical mental breakdown, the brain still functions at a biological process level, but psychological functioning is severely hampered.

Other uses of breakdown simple refer to a point-by-point analysis of something.

When spoken, only the first syllable of breakdown is stressed.

When to Use Break Down

Define break down and define breakdownWhat does break down mean? Break down is a phrasal verb. It has various meanings, the two most common of which are to cease functioning and to disassemble.

For example,

  • Always break down your corrugated boxes before putting them in the recycling bin.
  • If you drive your car without oil, it will break down.
  • Negotiations break down every time the robber threatens to kill a hostage.
  • A newspaper investigation has found that Allegiant Air’s planes are four times as likely to break down in flight as those operated by other major U.S. airlines. –The Washington Post

When spoken, break down has equal stress on each word.

Trick to Remember the Difference

breakdown versus break downHere is a helpful trick to remember break down vs. breakdown

  • If the term you are wishing to use is a verb, separate it into two words to form break down.
  • As a noun, breakdown is only one word.
  • Break down is never a noun, and breakdown is never a verb.

You can remember that the verb form has two words since one of these words is break, which is a verb in its own right. By looking at the meanings of the individual words in this phrase, you can remember what part of speech it is.


Is it breakdown or break down? In spoken English, breakdown and break down are indistinguishable except for the lack of stress on the second syllable of breakdown. They are otherwise pronounced identically.

  • Breakdown is a noun.
  • Break down is a verb.
  • The terms are not interchangeable.

You can remember to use break down as a verb by remembering the individual meanings of the words in this phrase.

Remember, you can also check this article for a quick refresher at any time.