• 3-minute read
  • 7th September 2018

Word Choice: Brake vs. Break

“Brake” and “break” sound identical. Both words can be a noun or a verb. They’re even anagrams of one another! But when it comes to their meanings, these terms are entirely distinct.

How, then, can you be sure that you’re using “brake” and “break” correctly? Check out our guide to make sure your writing is always error free.

Brake (Slow Down or Stop)

Used as a verb (i.e., an action word) “brake” means “slow down or stop a vehicle.” For instance:

The car braked before it hit the curb.

As a noun, a “brake” is a device used to stop or slow down a vehicle:

Always check your car’s emergency brake before a long journey.

We can also use this word figuratively when not discussing vehicles. For example, if we pause a project that is underway to do more planning, we might say that we are “putting the brakes on it.”

Break (Damage, Violate or Interrupt)

“Break” actually has several meanings. As a verb, it can mean to:

  • Damage or destroy something (e.g., It will break if you drop it…)
  • Violate a law or promise (e.g., I would never break an oath…)
  • Interrupt or end something (e.g., Let’s break for lunch…)
  • Reveal something or make it public (e.g., To break news…)

It is worth noting that the simple past tense and past participle forms of this verb are “broke” and “broken” respectively, not “breaked.” This is because “break” is an irregular verb.

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As a noun, meanwhile, a “break” can be a:

  • Point of damage (e.g., We repaired it at the break)
  • Pause or interruption (e.g., Take regular breaks while writing…)
  • Gap or opening in something (e.g., We ran for the break in the tree line…)
  • A vacation or holiday (e.g., He went to Cancun for spring break)

The word “break” also features in a number of phrases, such as “breaking bad.” These can be tricky if you’re not a native English speaker, but keep an ear out for how they are used and don’t be afraid to look up unfamiliar phrases.

Brake or Break?

These terms have so many meanings between them that it can get confusing! However, the word “brake” is always related to slowing something down or stopping it (both as a verb and a noun). If you are dealing with any other situation, the correct word will be “break.” Remember:

Brake (verb) = To slow down or stop

Brake (noun) = A device for slowing a vehicle down

Break (verb) = To damage, violate, or interrupt something

Break (noun) = A point of damage, a pause, or a vacation

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