break

verb
\ ˈbrāk How to pronounce break (audio) \
broke\ ˈbrōk How to pronounce break (audio) \; broken\ ˈbrō-​kən How to pronounce break (audio) \; breaking

Definition of break

 (Entry 1 of 2)

transitive verb

1a : 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
2a : violate, transgress break the law break a promise breaking conventions
b law : to invalidate (a will) by action under the provisions of the law
3a 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
6a : 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
7a : 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
8a : 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
9a : to ruin financially break the bank
b : to reduce in rank broken from sergeant to private
10a : 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
11a : 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
13a : 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)
15a : 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

1a : 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
2a : 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 traditionbroke with the leadership
8 : to give way in disorderly retreat if the front line breaks
9a : to swerve suddenly
b : to curve from a straight path a pitch that breaks away from the batter a putt that breaks left
10a : 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
15a : 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 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

break

noun

Definition of break (Entry 2 of 2)

1a : an act or action of breaking
b billiards : the opening shot in a game of pool or billiards
2a : 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
6a : 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
8a : 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
9a : 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
10a : 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

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. See More
Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Worcester was also expected to reach into the 90s, and break a high temperature record for the date of 88 set in 1975, according to Gaucher. Andrew Brinker, BostonGlobe.com, 21 May 2022 The 147th running of the Preakness Stakes will break Saturday night from Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. Evan Hilbert, USA TODAY, 21 May 2022 The parties decide who runs, and those who win rarely break ranks, because a single breach can end a political career. New York Times, 19 May 2022 The use of nuclear weapons by Russia would break a taboo against their use in war that has held since 1945. Stephen Fidler, WSJ, 19 May 2022 If Inter and AC Milan are level on Sunday night, the head-to-head record from this season will break the tie in favor of the Rossoneri, who were able to win the latest Milan derby. Daniele Proch, Forbes, 19 May 2022 When a commissioner and deputy commissioner break into the prosecutor’s office to destroy incriminating recordings, a betrayal jeopardizes the mission, pinning drug trafficking, torture and corruption on a sole culprit. Jd Linville, Variety, 19 May 2022 The Wood Memorial runner-up will break from the No. 5 post. Childs Walker, Baltimore Sun, 16 May 2022 During games — sometimes between pitches — players break into choreographed dance routines, some quick, others elaborate. David Wharton, Los Angeles Times, 16 May 2022 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun His 3-pointer with 13 seconds before halftime put Dallas up 72-58 at the break and gave him 24 points. Janie Mccauley, BostonGlobe.com, 21 May 2022 Detroit plays 18 games in 17 days leading up to the break, then have a doubleheader in Oakland two days after the All-Star Game, followed by a day off and 16 more games in 16 days. Evan Petzold, Detroit Free Press, 21 May 2022 Kahnle will be the second key leverage reliever out for an extended period of time, with setup man Blake Treinen also rehabbing a shoulder injury that will keep him out until after the All-Star break. Jack Harris, Los Angeles Times, 20 May 2022 Harden assisted on 27 of Thybulle's 52 made field goals after the All-Star break, including 21 of his 37 inside the three-point arc. Bryan Toporek, Forbes, 20 May 2022 Starting pitcher Justin Dunn has been out for the last 11 months with a right shoulder injury, but Bell said Dunn could be on track to return at the All-Star break. Charlie Goldsmith, The Enquirer, 18 May 2022 Judge Penny Azcarate said before the break that closing arguments are expected on May 27, followed by jury deliberations. Sandra Gonzalez, CNN, 16 May 2022 After the break, moving through the world with dyslexia. Kira Bindrim, Quartz, 16 May 2022 After falling behind by eight points in the first half, the Suns closed strong to take a three-point lead at the break. Mark Faller, The Arizona Republic, 16 May 2022 See More

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.

First Known Use of break

Verb

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

Noun

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

History and Etymology for break

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"

Learn More About break

Time Traveler for break

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Dictionary Entries Near break

breadwinner

break

breakable

See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for break

Last Updated

24 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Break.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/break. Accessed 28 May. 2022.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

More Definitions for break

break

verb
\ ˈbrāk How to pronounce break (audio) \
broke\ ˈbrōk \; broken\ ˈbrō-​kən \; breaking

Kids Definition of break

 (Entry 1 of 2)

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 : tame entry 2 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 : change entry 1 sense 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

break

noun

Kids Definition of break (Entry 2 of 2)

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

break

verb
\ ˈbrāk How to pronounce break (audio) \
broke\ ˈbrōk How to pronounce break (audio) \; broken\ ˈbrō-​kən How to pronounce break (audio) \; breaking

Medical Definition of break

 (Entry 1 of 2)

transitive verb

1a : 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)
2a : 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

noun

Medical Definition of break (Entry 2 of 2)

1a : an act or action of breaking : fracture
b : the act of opening a gap in an electrical circuit
2a : 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

break

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

Legal Definition of break

transitive verb

1a : violate, transgress break the law
b : to invalidate (a will) by a court proceeding
2a : 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 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
break in*to
: to enter by force or without privilege an officer may break into a buildingArizona Revised Statutes

More from Merriam-Webster on break

Nglish: Translation of break for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of break for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about break

WORD OF THE DAY

Test Your Vocabulary

Great Words for Scrabble

  • scrabble tiles that read scrabble quiz
  • Which of the following Q-without-U words means the number five in cards or dice?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ
Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

TAKE THE QUIZ
Love words? Need even more definitions?

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