break

1 of 2

verb

broke ˈbrōk How to pronounce break (audio) ; broken ˈbrō-kən How to pronounce break (audio) ; breaking

transitive verb

1
a
: to separate into parts with suddenness or violence
broke a plate
Break the chocolate bar in half.
b(1)
: to cause (a bone) to separate into two or more pieces : fracture
broke her femur
(2)
: to fracture a bone of (a bodily part)
the blow broke her arm
(3)
: to dislocate or dislocate and fracture a bone of (the neck or back)
c
: to cause an open wound in : rupture
break the skin
d
: to cut into and turn over the surface of
break the soil
e
: to render inoperable
broke his watch
2
a
: violate, transgress
break the law
break a promise
breaking conventions
b
law : to invalidate (a will) by action under the provisions of the law
3
a
archaic : to force entry into
b
: to burst and force a way through
break the sound barrier
break a racial barrier
c
: to escape by force from
break jail
d
: to make or effect by cutting, forcing, or pressing through
break a trail through the woods
4
: to disrupt the order or compactness of
break formation
5
: to make ineffective as a binding force
break the spell
6
a
: to defeat utterly and end as an effective force : destroy
used starvation to break the enemy
b
: to crush the spirit of
brutal methods broke the prisoner
c
: to make tractable or submissive: such as
(1)
past participle often broke : to train (an animal) to adjust to the service or convenience of humans
equipment used to break horses
a halter-broke horse
(2)
d
: to exhaust in health, strength, or capacity
broken by his struggle for power
7
a
: to stop or bring to an end suddenly : halt
break a deadlock
breaking a bad habit
decided to break off all ties to the organization
b
: interrupt, suspend
break the silence with a cry
c
: to open and bring about suspension of operation
break an electric circuit
d
: to destroy unity or completeness of
break a dining room set by buying a chair
e
: to change the appearance of uniformity of
a dormer breaks the level roof
f
: to split the surface of
could see fish breaking water
g
: to cause to discontinue a habit
tried to break him of smoking
8
a
: to make known : tell
break the bad news gently
b
: to bring to attention or prominence initially
radio stations breaking new musicians
break a news story
9
a
: to ruin financially
break the bank
b
: to reduce in rank
broken from sergeant to private
10
a
: to split into smaller units, parts, or processes : divide
Break the grammar lesson into digestible chunks.
break a word at the end of a line
b(1)
: to give or get the equivalent of (a bill) in smaller denominations
Can you break a fifty?
(2)
: to use as the denomination in paying a bill
didn't want to break a $20 bill
often used with into, up, or down
11
a
: to check or slow the speed, force, or intensity of
The bushes broke his fall.
without breaking her stride
b
: to cause failure and discontinuance of (a strike) by measures outside bargaining processes
12
: to cause a sudden significant decrease in the price, value, or volume of
news likely to break the market sharply
13
a
: exceed, surpass
break the record
b
golf : to score less than (a specified total)
trying to break 90
c
tennis : to win against (an opponent's service)
d
football : to make (a run) by getting past defenders
broke a 20-yard run
14
firearms : to open the action of (a breechloader)
15
a
: to find an explanation or solution for : solve
the detective broke the case
b
: to discover the essentials of (a code or cipher system)
16
: to demonstrate the falsity of
break an alibi
17
: to ruin the prospects of
could make or break her career
18
: to produce visibly
barely breaks a sweat

intransitive verb

1
a
: to escape with sudden forceful effort
the attacker broke from the throng
b
: to come into being by or as if by bursting forth
day was breaking
c
: to effect a penetration
break through security lines
d
: to emerge through the surface of the water
The fish were breaking.
e
: to start abruptly
when the storm broke
f
: to become known or published
when the news broke
g
: to make a sudden dash
break for cover
h
boxing : to separate after an instance of holding an opponent at close quarters : to separate after a clinch
The ref told them to break.
i
: to achieve initial success in usually a sudden or striking way
her song broke nationally
j
: to begin a race
the horse broke poorly
2
a
: to come apart or split into pieces : fragment, shatter
the cup broke when it fell
b
: to open spontaneously or by pressure from within
the blister broke
c
of a wave : to curl over and fall apart in surf or foam
3
: to interrupt one's activity or occupation for a brief period
break for lunch
4
: to alter sharply in tone, pitch, or intensity
a voice breaking with emotion
5
: to become fair (see fair entry 1 sense 3) : clear
when the weather breaks
6
billiards : to make the opening shot of a game of pool
7
: to end a relationship, connection, or agreement
usually used with with or from
break with tradition
broke with the leadership
8
: to give way in disorderly retreat
if the front line breaks
9
a
: to swerve suddenly
b
: to curve from a straight path
a pitch that breaks away from the batter
a putt that breaks left
10
a
: to fail in health, strength, vitality, resolve, or control
may break under questioning
b
: to become inoperative because of damage, wear, or strain
the pump broke
11
of a horse : to fail to keep a prescribed gait
12
: to undergo a sudden significant decrease in price, value, or volume
transportation stocks may break sharply
13
: happen, develop
for the team to succeed, everything has to break right
14
tennis : to win against an opponent's serve
15
a
: to divide into classes, categories, or types
b
: to fold, bend, lift, or come apart at a seam, groove, or joint
The seam on her dress broke.
c
of cream : to separate during churning into liquid and fat

break

2 of 2

noun

1
a
: an act or action of breaking
b
billiards : the opening shot in a game of pool or billiards
2
a
: a gap or opening caused or appearing as if caused by damage : a condition produced by or as if by breaking : gap
a break in the pipe
breaks in the ice
a break in the clouds
waiting for a break in the traffic
b
: a gap in an otherwise continuous electric circuit
3
: the action or act of entering, escaping, or emerging from something (such as darkness) often in a sudden or violent way : the action or act of breaking in, breaking out, or breaking forth
at break of day
a jail break
4
: a place or situation at which a break occurs: such as
a
: the place at which a word is divided especially at the end of a line of print or writing
b
: the location at which waves curl over and fall apart in surf or foam : the point at which waves break (see break entry 1 sense 2c) for surfing
c
: separation of composed matter at an indicated point
also : the separation between a preview of a website or a particular post on a website and the full content
reading the rest of the article after the break
5
: an interruption in continuity
a break in the weather
: such as
a
: a notable change of subject matter, attitude, or treatment
the break after the eighth line of a sonnet
b(1)
: an abrupt, significant, or noteworthy change or interruption in a continuous process, trend, or surface
dislikes breaks in his daily routine
a break in her dancing career
fields that extend for miles without a break
(2)
: a respite from work, school, or duty
take a short coffee break
college kids on spring break
(3)
: relief from annoyance
often used to express exasperation or irritation in phrases like give me a break
(4)
: a planned interruption in a radio or television program
a break for the commercial
c
baseball : deviation of a pitched ball from a straight line
d
mining : fault, dislocation
e
horseback riding : failure of a horse to maintain the prescribed gait
f(1)
: an abrupt change in musical or vocal pitch or quality
especially : the point between two distinctive musical registers of a voice or a wind instrument
(2)
: a sudden change in vocal pitch, intensity, or tone
speaking passionately, with a break in her voice
(3)
: a quick shift from one rhythmic track to another in the same tempo and key on a different turntable
g
tennis : the action or an instance of winning against an opponent's service : the action or an instance of breaking (see break entry 1 sense 13c) service
a service break
h
music : a usually solo instrumental passage in jazz, folk, or popular music
6
a
: dash, rush
a base runner making a break for home
b
sports : fast break
a break toward the basket
7
: a sudden and abrupt decline of prices or values
8
a
: the start of a race
b
boxing : the act of separating after an instance of holding an opponent at close quarters : the act of separating after a clinch
9
a
: a stroke of luck and especially of good luck
got a lucky break
can't seem to catch a break
a series of bad breaks
b
: a favorable or opportune situation : chance
waiting for a big break in show business
c
: favorable consideration or treatment
a tax break
a break on the price
10
a
: a rupture in previously agreeable relations
a break between the two countries
b
: an abrupt split or difference with something previously adhered to or followed
a sharp break with tradition
11
: breakdown sense 1c
suffered a mental break
Phrases
break a leg
used to wish good luck especially to a performer
break bread
: to dine together
break camp
: to pack up gear and leave a camp or campsite
break cover or less commonly break covert
: to start from a hiding place, covert (see covert entry 2 sense 1), or lair
break even
: to achieve a balance
especially : to operate a business or enterprise without either loss or profit
break free
: to get away by overcoming restraints or constraints
break ground
1
: to begin construction
breaking ground on a new wing of the hospital
2
or break new ground : to make or show discoveries : pioneer
break into
1
: to begin with or as if with a sudden throwing off of restraint
broke into tears
face breaking into a smile
the horse breaks into a gallop
2
: to make entry or entrance into
broke into the house
break into show business
3
: interrupt
break into a TV program with a news flash
break one's heart
: to crush emotionally with sorrow
He broke my heart when he said he was leaving.
break one's wrists
: to turn the wrists as part of the swing of a club or bat
break ranks or less commonly break rank
: to differ in opinion or action from one's peers
often used with with
broke ranks with the party's leadership
break the back of
: to subdue the main force of
break the back of inflation
break the ice
1
: to make a beginning
2
: to get through the first difficulties in starting a conversation or discussion
break wind
: to expel gas from the intestine

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 break in a Sentence

Verb She broke the cup when she dropped it on the floor. Break the chocolate bar into pieces so that everyone can have some. It is easiest to break a chain at its weakest link. A chain will break at its weakest link. The fall broke his arm. His arm broke in three places when he fell. A bruise forms when a blood vessel breaks under the skin. Noun The tank is reinforced to prevent breaks and leaks. There was a break in the hedge. We waited for a break in the traffic. The fields extend for miles without a break. We chatted during a break in the game. All employees are entitled to two breaks during the workday. We've been working all day without a break.
Recent Examples on the Web
Verb
Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter. Greg Hanlon, Peoplemag, 10 June 2024 Sign up for Entertainment Weekly's free daily newsletter to get breaking TV news, exclusive first looks, recaps, reviews, interviews with your favorite stars, and more. Jessica Wang, EW.com, 10 June 2024
Noun
Melissa has embraced each, even blowing a kiss to the first lady’s senior advisor, Anthony Bernal, during one break last week. Matt Hamilton, Los Angeles Times, 10 June 2024 Prince William is a loyal soccer follower and has been known to interrupt his children's school breaks to comment on the biggest news in the game. Janine Henni, Peoplemag, 10 June 2024 See all Example Sentences for break 

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

Word History

Etymology

Verb

Middle English breken, going back to Old English brecan, going back to Germanic *brekan- (whence also Old Saxon brekan "to violently separate, shatter," Old High German brehhan, Gothic brikan), going back to Indo-European *bhreg- "violently separate," whence also, with varying ablaut grades, Latin frangere (perfect frēgī) "to break, shatter" and perhaps Old Irish braigid (perfect ro-bebraig) "(s/he) farts, breaks wind"

Noun

Middle English brek, breke, derivative of breken "to break entry 1"

First Known Use

Verb

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1a

Noun

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of break was before the 12th century

Dictionary Entries Near break

Cite this Entry

“Break.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/break. Accessed 23 Jun. 2024.

Kids Definition

break

1 of 2 verb
broke ˈbrōk How to pronounce break (audio) ; broken ˈbrō-kən How to pronounce break (audio) ; breaking
1
a
: to separate into parts suddenly or forcibly
break a stick
glass breaks easily
break a bone
b
: to fracture a bone of
broke her arm
c
: to curl over and fall apart
waves breaking against the shore
2
: to fail to keep : violate
broke the law
break a promise
3
a
: to force a way
burglars broke into the house
break out of jail
b
: to appear or burst forth suddenly
day was breaking in the east
the storm broke
pandemonium broke loose
c
: to become fair
wait for the weather to break
d
: to run suddenly
break for cover
e
: to penetrate the surface of
fish breaking water
4
: to cut into and turn over the surface of
break ground for a new school
5
a
: to defeat completely : crush
broke the revolt
b
: to lose or cause to lose health, strength, or spirit
broke under the strain
broken by grief
c
: to lose or cause to lose the ability to function because of damage, wear, or strain
the TV set is broken
I broke my watch
6
: to reduce in rank
7
a
: to bring to an end : stop
break a habit
broke silence
b
: to have or cause an interruption
we'll break to let local stations identify themselves
broke in with a comment
8
: to train an animal
break a horse to the saddle
9
: to make known
break the news
10
: to turn aside or lessen the force of
the bushes broke his fall
11
: to do better than
broke the school record
12
: open entry 2 sense 1a
break an electric circuit
broke the shotgun to load it
13
: solve
broke the code
14
a
: to curve, drop, or change direction sharply
the pitch broke over the plate for a strike
b
: to change sharply in tone, pitch, or intensity
her voice broke
breakable
ˈbrā-kə-bəl
adjective

break

2 of 2 noun
1
: an act, action, or result of breaking
2
: a gap in an electric circuit interrupting the flow of current
3
a
: a short rest from or an interruption of work, duty, or studies
b
: a planned interruption in a radio or television program
c
: a noticeable change (as in a surface, course, movement, or direction)
d
: a sudden run : dash
4
: a place or situation at which a break occurs : gap
5
: a stroke of luck
a bad break
especially : a stroke of good luck
got all the breaks
6
a
: a favorable situation
a big break in show business
b
: favorable treatment
a tax break

Medical Definition

break

1 of 2 verb
broke ˈbrōk How to pronounce break (audio) ; broken ˈbrō-kən How to pronounce break (audio) ; breaking

transitive verb

1
a
: to snap into pieces : fracture
break a bone
b
: to fracture the bone of (a bodily part)
the blow broke her arm
c
: to dislocate or dislocate and fracture a bone of (the neck or back)
2
a
: to cause an open wound in : rupture
break the skin
b
: to rupture the surface of and permit flowing out or effusing
break an artery
he broke several veins during his seizure

intransitive verb

1
: to fail in health or strength
often used with down
he broke down under the strain
2
: to suffer complete or marked loss of resistance, composure, resolution, morale, or command of a situation
often used with down
the prisoner broke down under interrogation and told the whole story

break

2 of 2 noun
1
a
: an act or action of breaking : fracture
b
: the act of opening a gap in an electrical circuit
2
a
: a condition produced by breaking
the break in her leg
b
: a gap in an otherwise continuous electric circuit
3
: the occurrence of a disease in a person or especially in a domestic animal supposed to be immune to or to have been completely isolated from exposure to that disease

Legal Definition

break

verb
broke ˈbrōk How to pronounce break (audio) ; broken ˈbrō-kən How to pronounce break (audio) ; breaking
ˈbrā-kiŋ

transitive verb

1
a
: violate, transgress
break the law
b
: to invalidate (a will) by a court proceeding
2
a
: to open (another's real property) by force or without privilege (as consent) for entry
often used in the phrase break and enter
one who breaks and enters a dwelling-house of anotherW. R. LaFave and A. W. Scott, Jr.
b
: to escape by force from
breaks prison or escapes or flees from justiceColorado Revised Statutes
3
: to cause (a strike) to fail and discontinue by means (as force) other than bargaining

intransitive verb

: to escape with forceful effort
often used with out
prisoners wounded while attempting to break out

More from Merriam-Webster on break

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!