1

break

verb \ ˈbrāk \
Updated on: 15 Nov 2017

Definition of break

broke play \ˈbrōk\; broken play \ˈbrō-kən\; breaking
transitive verb
1 a : to separate into parts with suddenness or violence
  • broke a plate
  • Break the chocolate bar in half.
b (1) : fracture
  • break a bone
(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) : inure, accustom
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 1fair 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 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 2covert 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

Examples of break in a Sentence

  1. She broke the cup when she dropped it on the floor.

  2. Break the chocolate bar into pieces so that everyone can have some.

  3. It is easiest to break a chain at its weakest link.

  4. A chain will break at its weakest link.

  5. The fall broke his arm.

  6. His arm broke in three places when he fell.

  7. A bruise forms when a blood vessel breaks under the skin.

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.

Origin and Etymology of break

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"


2

break

noun

Definition of break

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 1break 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 : an abrupt change in musical or vocal pitch or quality
  • a break in her voice as she said goodbye
g tennis : the action or an instance of winning against an opponent's service : the action or an instance of breaking (see 1break 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 1c
  • suffered a mental break

Examples of break in a Sentence

  1. The tank is reinforced to prevent breaks and leaks.

  2. There was a break in the hedge.

  3. We waited for a break in the traffic.

  4. The fields extend for miles without a break.

  5. We chatted during a break in the game.

  6. All employees are entitled to two breaks during the workday.

  7. We've been working all day without a break.

Recent Examples of break from the Web

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'break.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Origin and Etymology of break

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


BREAK Defined for English Language Learners

break

verb

Definition of break for English Language Learners

  • : to separate (something) into parts or pieces often in a sudden and forceful or violent way

  • : to cause (a bone) to separate into two or more pieces

  • : to open suddenly especially because of pressure from inside


break

noun

Definition of break for English Language Learners

  • : a crack, hole, etc., that is caused by damage, injury, or pressure

  • : an opening or space in something : an opening that makes it possible for someone or something to enter or pass through something

  • : something that causes a change or interruption


BREAK Defined for Kids

1

break

verb \ ˈbrāk \

Definition of break for Students

broke \ˈbrōk\; broken \ˈbrō-kən\; breaking
1 : to separate into parts especially suddenly or forcibly
  • break a stick
  • break into groups
2 : to cause (a bone) to separate into two or more pieces
3 : to stop working or cause to stop working because of damage or wear
  • I broke my watch.
4 : to fail to keep
  • broke the law
  • break a promise
5 : to force a way
  • They broke out of jail.
6 : to cut into and turn over
  • break the soil
7 : to go through : penetrate
  • break the skin
  • … she broke through the surface of the water …
  • —Kevin Henkes, Olive's Ocean
8 : 2tame
  • break a wild horse
9 : to do better than
  • broke the school record
10 : to interrupt or put an end to : stop
  • A shout broke the silence.
  • Let's break for lunch.
11 : to reduce the force of
  • break a fall
12 : to develop or burst out suddenly
  • Day is breaking.
  • They broke into laughter.
13 : to make known
  • broke the news
14 : solve
  • break a code
15 : 1change 4
  • break a ten-dollar bill
16 : to run or flee suddenly
  • break for cover
break down
1 : to stop working properly
  • The car broke down.
2 : to separate or become separated into simpler substances : decompose
3 : to be overcome by emotion
  • broke down in tears
4 : to knock down
  • break down a door
break out
1 : to develop a skin rash
2 : to start up suddenly
  • A fight broke out.
break up
1 : to separate into parts
  • The meteor broke up in the earth's atmosphere.
2 : to bring or come to an end
  • The party broke up late.
3 : to end a romantic relationship

2

break

noun

Definition of break for Students

1 : an act of breaking
  • at break of day
2 : something produced by breaking
  • a bad break in the leg
3 : a period of time when an activity stops
  • Let's take a break.
4 : an accidental event
  • a lucky break

Medical Dictionary

1

break

verb \ ˈbrāk \

medical Definition of break

broke play \ˈbrōk\; broken play \ˈbrō-kən\; 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

2

break

noun

medical Definition of break

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

Law Dictionary

break

verb \ ˈbrāk \

legal Definition of break

broke play \ˈbrōk\; broken play \ˈbrō-kən\; 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 another
  • —W. R. LaFave and A. W. Scott, Jr.
b : to escape by force from
  • breaks prison or escapes or flees from justice
  • Colorado 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
break in*to
: to enter by force or without privilege
  • an officer may break into a building
  • Arizona Revised Statutes


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