What Does Breaking Ranks Mean?

Breaking Ranks Meaning

Definition: Not to conform to a majority opinion; to become disorderly.

Origin of Breaking Ranks

This was originally a military expression. In the military, to break ranks meant to stop being in a straight line. The figurative usage began around the mid-1800s.

Examples of Breaking Ranks

This example shows two college students using the expression. They are talking about for whom they will vote in an upcoming election.

Frank: Hey, Karl. Are you planning on voting tomorrow?

Karl: I don’t really like either candidate, but my family will be really angry with me if I don’t vote.

Frank: So which person are you going to vote for?

Karl: My whole family is voting for the same person, so I guess I have to vote for that person, too. My family would be angry if I broke ranks and voted for someone different.

Frank: Yeah, my family gets angry too when I vote for someone they don’t like.

 Break ranks definitionIn this example, two friends are discussing their new business. They are trying to make a decision about the business.

Lily: It seems as if everyone on the board agrees with us. We should change our logo.

Grace: Lily, I hate to break ranks, but I actually disagree.

Lily: What do you mean? Why?

Grace: I think the current logo is great. I know I’m just one person, and my disagreement won’t stop the change from happening. However, I still wanted to share my opinion.

More Examples

Define breaking ranksThe excerpt below is about American political parties. Usually, Democrats agree on issues, and Republicans agree on issues. However, Democrats often disagree with Republicans and vice versa. The excerpt below is explaining that three specific Republican congressmen will conform with their peers. 

  • U.S. Reps. Peter Roskam, Adam Kinzinger and Darin LaHood are among Illinois’ seven House Republicans who are not expected to break ranks on the GOP bill to replace the Affordable Care Act. –Chicago Tribune

This excerpt is about how lawmakers will go against caucus leaders.

  • If anything, the chance that lawmakers will break ranks with their caucus leaders to resolve the budget battle is smaller than ever in the wake of this election. –Chicago Tribune


The original meaning of to break ranks was for soldiers who were in a straight line that then fell into disarray. Over time, the definition changed to mean become disorderly or to disagree with a majority opinion.