\ 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



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 But that doesn’t eliminate the risk of accidents, as the chairs can break without warning. Chris Smith, BGR, 8 May 2022 After failing 23 times to win the Run for the Roses, Asmussen felt confident that his prized colt Epicenter would break his curse. J.l. Kirven, The Courier-Journal, 8 May 2022 Amid long, structured school days filled with academic demands, recess serves as a critical outlet and break for kids, according to pediatricians and child development experts. Jackie Mader, NBC News, 7 May 2022 But solid metal can fatigue and break, and the more that’s added to a soft material, the more inflexible the material becomes. Kurt Kleiner, Smithsonian Magazine, 6 May 2022 Questions that break the status quo are the best way to add value. Expert Panel®, Forbes, 6 May 2022 Certainly, the lipstick theory has detractors, who note that lipstick sales are hard to pinpoint, given how many companies manufacture the product and how few break the category out individually. Chris Morris, Fortune, 6 May 2022 The transmission loop connects all three Baltic states with Belarus and western Russia, creating an interdependence that no one country can break without hurting itself and the others, said Rokas Masiulis, head of Lithuania’s electricity grid. Washington Post, 6 May 2022 Sam refuses, but cops break into the cabin and take Sam and his young sons — who are armed with rifles — into custody. Scott D. Pierce, The Salt Lake Tribune, 6 May 2022 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun At Alpha Munitions, the group in the office break into their own conversations. Paighten Harkins, The Salt Lake Tribune, 10 May 2022 Jay Rualo’s only goal of the game, off a fast-break feed from Roberson, tied the score at 7 with just over three minutes to play. Craig Clary, Baltimore Sun, 10 May 2022 Candidates were still largely absent from the airwaves, and residents were more focused on spring break-up related tasks — not who would be their sole representative in U.S. Congress. Nathaniel Herz, Anchorage Daily News, 9 May 2022 This glorious moment is known as bud break, when the vines glow in a neon green hue with fresh new leaves. Kathryn Romeyn, Travel + Leisure, 8 May 2022 Here is the foundational narrative on which I was raised: In March 1933, my great-uncle Arthur Kahn walked out of his apartment in Würzburg, Germany, for what was supposed to be a short Easter-break trip to see relatives. Mattie Kahn, The Atlantic, 5 May 2022 Even implementing just a few concerted, strategic fiscal strategies and safeguards can better crash-proof a hospitality business—and even be the make-or-break means to survival overall. Douglas Carpenter, Forbes, 4 May 2022 The make-or-break issue is whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will let 10 of his GOP caucus members support the narrow insulin pricing policy to get it across the finish line. Nicholas Florko, STAT, 4 May 2022 No one better embodies the sudden break from decades of worry over inflation—in Washington and elite circles of economics—than Janet L. Yellen, the former Federal Reserve chair and current Treasury secretary . . . James Freeman, WSJ, 2 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


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


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

History and Etymology for 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"


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

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Time Traveler for break

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

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Last Updated

12 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Break.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 19 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for break


\ 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



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


\ 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



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


\ 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 Encyclopedia article about break


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