1 of 6

noun (1)

: a device for arresting or preventing the motion of a mechanism usually by means of friction
apply the brakes
took his foot off the brake
: something used to slow down or stop movement or activity
use interest rates as a brake on spending
brakeless adjective


2 of 6


braked; braking

intransitive verb

: to operate or manage a brake
especially : to apply the brake on a vehicle
brake around the curves
: to become checked by a brake
The train braked to a stop.

transitive verb

: to slow or stop by or as if by a brake (see brake entry 1)
braking a tractor


3 of 6

noun (2)

botany : the common bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum)


4 of 6

noun (3)

: a toothed instrument or machine for separating out the fiber of flax or hemp by breaking up the woody parts
: a machine for bending, flanging, folding, and forming sheet metal


5 of 6

noun (4)

geography : rough or marshy land overgrown usually with one kind of plant
cedar brakes
coastal brakes
braky adjective


6 of 6

archaic past tense of break

Did you know?

Break and Brake: Remembering Which Is Which

It can be hard to apply these words correctly: they sound exactly the same, and their spellings aren't easily connected to their meanings. One of the pair, however, is quite limited in scope, and focusing on when to apply that one can be key.

When the subject is slowing or stopping movement, the word to use is brake. Brake is both a noun, as in "put on the brakes" and "took my foot off the brake," and a verb, as in "brake at the stop sign" and "I brake for moose." As a noun, it's also used before other nouns: "brake fluid," "brake pedal." As in these examples, the word is used in contexts relating to cars, bicycles, and other vehicles. It's also used figuratively, however, to talk about the slowing or stopping of activity, as in "putting the brakes on spending."

Break also functions as both a noun and a verb, and it's the word you want in all other contexts, such as when the topic is something separating into parts or pieces ("the plate will break if it falls," "break a leg," "a bad break"), being damaged to the point of no longer working ("break a watch"), failing to do what is promised ("break a promise"), or referring to a time during which activity stops ("take a break").

If you have difficulty keeping these straight and are inclined to think in pictures, you might want to imagine a foot nestled in the top of the k in brake, pressing that top line down onto the e, which isn't saying a thing, because the k has put the brakes on.

Examples of brake in a Sentence

Verb I had to brake suddenly when a cat ran in front of the car. braked the car sharply when someone pulled out in front of us
Recent Examples on the Web
But a growing demand for the gelatin has decimated donkey populations at such alarming rates in African countries that governments are now moving to put a brake on the mostly unregulated trade. Siyi Zhao, New York Times, 23 Feb. 2024 The boys almost immediately encounter heartless human smugglers, who don’t even hit the brakes to slow down when a migrant is accidentally thrown from the back of a speeding, overloaded pickup truck. Michael O'Sullivan, Washington Post, 20 Feb. 2024 Their tests of four vehicles equipped with reverse emergency braking found that the system effectively applied the brakes just 65% of the time, and prevented crashes with moving vehicles to the rear in only 2.5% of its test runs. Jim Gorzelany, Forbes, 20 Feb. 2024 Some households that took on a great deal of credit card debt may want to tap the brakes here to gradually improve their finances and be ready to take better advantage of lower interest rates in the next year or so. Susan Tompor, Detroit Free Press, 15 Feb. 2024 Even though price increases have tapped the brakes, home buyers are still struggling from those two years of accelerated prices. Nerdwallet, Orange County Register, 15 Feb. 2024 The vehicle then brakes and swerves around them at the last second. Bigad Shaban, NBC News, 14 Feb. 2024 Prime Video customers initially found out Jan. 29 that Amazon Prime would start charging a fee for ad-free streaming, but a class-action lawsuit out of Washington is trying to make the company pump the brakes. Chris Sims, The Courier-Journal, 13 Feb. 2024 Electric scooters require periodic maintenance for their brakes and tires, though Malaviya suggests regularly checking for issues. Kevin Brouillard, Travel + Leisure, 9 Feb. 2024
Dave was driving 74 mph in a 25 mph zone on the way to an overdose call and started braking less than a second before hitting Kandula, according to a report by a detective from the department's traffic collision investigation team. CBS News, 25 Jan. 2024 What’s more, says Borie, is that the inter-module communications system has a safety mode that brakes the whole train when any of the modules is disconnected from it. IEEE Spectrum, 22 Dec. 2023 In the other case, another vehicle cut in front of the Waymo, and the AV braked hard but couldn’t avoid a collision. Timothy B. Lee, Ars Technica, 1 Sep. 2023 This allows individual cars to coordinate their movement for more efficiency: braking in synchronization, for example. Bruce Schneier, WIRED, 8 Jan. 2024 When it's done, the driver must brake to a stop within 15 seconds. Evan Williams, Ars Technica, 2 Jan. 2024 At the same time, other Tesla fans are balking at the details of the update itself, which will add measures to ensure drivers continue to pay attention while the Autopilot feature (intended for use in accelerating, steering, and braking on highways) is engaged. Miles Klee, Rolling Stone, 13 Dec. 2023 According to Cruise, citing data from cameras and sensors mounted on its vehicle, the robot car swerved and braked, but still hit the woman. WIRED, 27 Oct. 2023 That means that the high-performance battery that feeds its electric motor will instead be kept charged by its ICE engine and kinetic energy generated by braking. Bryan Hood, Robb Report, 21 Dec. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'brake.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Noun (1) and Verb

perhaps from obsolete brake bridle

Noun (2)

Middle English, fern, probably back-formation from braken bracken

Noun (3)

Middle English, from Middle Low German; akin to Old English brecan to break

Noun (4)

Middle English -brake

First Known Use

Noun (1)

circa 1782, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1868, in the meaning defined at transitive sense

Noun (2)

14th century, in the meaning defined above

Noun (3)

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Noun (4)

1562, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of brake was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near brake

Cite this Entry

“Brake.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 29 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


1 of 4 noun
: a common bracken fern


2 of 4 noun
: a device for slowing or stopping motion (as of a wheel, vehicle, or engine) especially by friction


3 of 4 verb
braked; braking
: to slow or stop by or as if by a brake
: to use or operate the brake on a vehicle


4 of 4 noun
: rough or marshy overgrown land : thicket

More from Merriam-Webster on brake

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!