Break vs. Brake – How to Use Each Correctly
What’s the Difference Between Break and Brake?
These two words are homophones, which means that they sound completely the same but have different definitions and spellings.
The main meaning of break as a verb means to hit forcefully causing an object to divide into parts.
- The girl breaks windows often by hitting baseballs into them.
The main meaning of brake, either as a noun or verb, refers to bring a vehicle to a stop.
- The truck driver stepped on her brake to avoid going too fast.
By understanding each word in context, you can avoid the error of confusing one for the other. Now, let’s go over a few ways you can use these words in your sentences.
Using Break in a Sentence
When to use break: Break can be either a noun or a verb. It has many meanings, but the main meaning is to smash something into pieces or to stop something from functioning. It can also mean a gap or a period of relaxation.
- He broke the vase on purpose because he thought it was so ugly. He needed an excuse to throw it out. (verb)
- She fell down the stairs and broke her arm. (verb)
- I see a break in the line. Let’s pass through over there. (noun)
- Okay, class, we’ve been sitting here for an hour. Let’s take a ten minute break then finish the remaining hour of the lecture. (noun)
There are many idioms and expressions that use break, some of which are included below:
- to break even: to neither gain nor lose anything, usually money
- The business knew they couldn’t make a profit, but they hoped to at least break even.
- to break ground: to start construction
- The new mall won’t be ready for a long time. They won’t even break ground until next year.
- to break someone’s heart: to make someone sad for romantic reasons
- She loved him, but he never loved her, and it broke her heart.
- to break up with someone: to end a relationship
- They broke up last year, but neither one of them has entered a new relationship.
These expressions show that break can be either literal or figurative.
Using Brake in a Sentence
When to use brake: Brake can act as either a noun or a verb. As a verb, its main meaning is to bring a vehicle to a stop. As a noun, it means the device that stops a vehicle.
- Brake! Brake! Brake before you hit that dog in the middle of the road! (verb)
- You shouldn’t brake as often as you do. You are going to damage your car’s brakes. (verb, noun)
- The bicycle brakes broke so she had to use her feet to make the bike stop moving. (noun)
There is one expression with brakes that can be either literal or figurative:
- to hit the brakes: to stop a vehicle or to stop some other type of endeavor
- You’d better hit the brakes before that police officer sees you speeding. (literal)
- I think this relationship is moving too fast for me. Maybe we should hit the brakes. (figurative)
Brake also has some meanings associated with plants. This use is much less common.
Remembering Break vs. Brake
When trying to remember the difference between break and brake, it may help to think of the spelling for each. Break ends with eak, just like the word steak. You could enjoy a break in your day by eating a juicy steak.
Alternatively, you could remember that both brake and take end in the letters ake. In order to brake a vehicle, you must take your foot off the gas pedal.
- Not just bad, but inept to a level of historic proportions. If the Galaxy don’t win at least one of their final six games at the StubHub Center, beginning Saturday, they’ll break the MLS record for fewest home wins in a season. –LA Times
- “One game is not going to make or break a player to a large degree,” Whisenhunt said. “But getting a chance to see them in this first game — and then see how they respond in the next game — it’s a big deal. It’s a big part of the evaluation.” –OC Register
- Clenord told police he tried to hit the brake but his car accelerated. –LA Times
- A brake problem during the race made the day that much tougher. –USA Today
Quiz: Brake vs. Break
Instructions: Fill in the blank with the correct word, either brake or break, in the correct form.
- It’s important to always be honest with your spouse, so you don’t __________ his or her trust.
- She ______________ the school record for fastest mile run.
- He _____________ hard when he saw a child running towards the road.
See answers below.
Should I use break or brake? Both these words share the same pronunciation, but their definitions have no overlap in meaning. Therefore, they are not interchangeable.
- Break is about making something broken, or destroying something so that it doesn’t work or is in pieces.
- Brake is about coming to a stop while operating a car, bicycle, or other vehicle.
Be careful to know which definition is appropriate when choosing which of these two words to use.
Answers from Quiz