Breakdown or Break Down – How to Use Each Correctly

enhancedwriting/ August 10, 2017/ Uncategorized

breakdown versus break down

What’s the Difference Between Breakdown and Break Down?

Breakdown and break down look and sound almost exactly the same. Despite the similarities between the two words, they are not the same part of speech. Therefore, it is not possible to interchange the two spellings.

Breakdown is a noun that means a failure of a system, a relationship, one’s mental health, or communication. It can also mean a separation of a whole into smaller parts.

  • She’s locked herself in the bathroom and has been having a mental breakdown.

Break down is a phrasal verb. It can mean either to stop functioning or to separate a whole into constituent parts.

  • This math equation is easier if you break it down into several parts.

Now that you know the differences between these two words, let’s look at them in context to ensure you don’t confuse one for the other.

Using Breakdown in a Sentence

When to use breakdown: Breakdown is a noun related to something that is worn out, not working, or a collapse of mental health.

For example,

  • There has been a breakdown of communication that resulted in the loss of several million dollars.
  • Machine breakdowns occur regularly and repairs cost the company quite a lot of money.

There is one common expression that uses breakdown:

  • a nervous breakdown: mental illness due to stress
    • She suffered a nervous breakdown after the death of her child.

The noun breakdown developed from the verb break down.

Using Break Down in a Sentence

When to use break down: Break down is a phrasal verb with similar meanings to the noun breakdown. It means to itemize something, to separate parts from the whole, to analyze or make clearer through separating into steps or pieces of information, or to stop functioning.

  • The car broke down halfway through the roadtrip across the country.
  • The restaurant breaks down each bill into each separate food item and drink.

It is possible to separate break and down with an object.

  • Volunteers stepped up to break the wall down.

There is one common expression with break down:

  • to break down and cry: to lose control of one’s emotions and begin to cry
    • He almost never showed emotion, but he always broke down and cried during his favorite movie.

The earliest definition of break down was to destroy, which originated in the 1300s. The other meanings originated in the 1800s.

Remembering Breakdown vs. Break Down

Breakdown and break down heavily overlap in their meanings, so the most important thing is to make sure you are using the correct part of speech for each. Their parts of speech can also help you to remember the difference between the two words.

Breakdown is a noun, and like most nouns, it is a single word. On the other hand, break down is a phrasal verb. Like most phrasal verbs, it consists of two words.

If you need a little extra help to remember that break down is the verb, just remember that it is easier to make break down past tense. This is because the word break is separate from the preposition down. You can also put nouns between the two words such as break it down.

Outside Examples

  • Now, though, the boxes were being opened up, wires everywhere, and Larson started to worry. The machines looked too complicated. Maybe they’d break down. Maybe they couldn’t keep pace. –Chicago Tribune
  • “My whole intention is to break down these limitations of what a black comedian is supposed to be and to open up a space. For a lot of comics who aren’t as silly or physical, but more intellectual, we get looked at as ‘alt comics,’” she said. –LA Times
  • In terms of race and ethnicity, the landscape remains largely white, with Hispanics grossly underrepresented compared to the breakdown of the U.S. population. –USA Today
  • During a preview tour, a theme park suffers a major power breakdown that allows its cloned dinosaur exhibits to run amok. –Houston Chronicle

Quiz: Break Down vs. Breakdown

Instructions: Fill in the blank with the correct word, either break down or breakdown in the correct form.

  • After losing his job the man suffered a nervous _________________.
  • He was usually very stoic so she was shocked when he ____________ and cried.
  • We must work together to _________________ oppression and prejudice!

See answers below.

Article Summary

Should I use breakdown or break down? When speaking, both words have the same pronunciation except for their slightly different stressed syllables. However, they are different parts of speech and cannot be interchanged freely in writing.

  • Breakdown is a noun that has the primary meaning of ceasing to function.
  • Break down is a phrasal verb with the same primary definition of to stop functioning.


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