Breath vs. Breathe – How to Use Each Correctly

enhancedwriting/ September 2, 2017/ Uncategorized

breath versus breathe

What’s the Difference Between Breath and Breathe?

Breath and breathe look and sound almost identical, and their meanings are closely related. However, they are different parts of speech, and, therefore, cannot be interchanged grammatically.

Breath is a noun that means the air one inhales and exhales with one’s lungs.

  • The diver took a deep breath when she came up for air after being underwater for a couple minutes.

Breathe is a verb that means to respire through inhaling and exhaling.

  • The runner breathes quickly whenever he is in a race.

Let’s look at some further details about these two words in order to help you avoid making any errors.

Using Breath in a Sentence

When to use breath: Breath is a noun that describes the air that comes from respiration.

For example,

  • It’s important to take deep breaths while giving birth.
  • Hold your breath before you go underwater.

There are many idioms and expressions that use the word breath, some of which are below:

  • a waste of breath: spoken information that will be or is ignored
    • Don’t give her any advice. It’s a waste of breath because she’ll end up doing whatever she wants anyway.
  • a breath of fresh air: a refreshing and rejuvenating force or presence
    • I’m glad we hired that new employee. She’s a breath of fresh air. She’s reminding everyone about all the good reasons to work here.
  • under one’s breath: very quietly so that no one can hear
    • He was angry and wanted to yell, but he didn’t want to be unprofessional. In the end he simply called them bad names under his breath.
  • to draw one’s last breath: to take one’s last inhale or exhale before dying
    • He continued to curse his enemies until he drew his last breath.
  • to catch one’s breath: to get enough oxygen after depleting it through vigorous exercise or activity
    • Wait! I need to stop running for a minute or two so I can catch my breath.

People often associate breath with life.

Using Breathe in a Sentence

When to use breathe: Breathe is a verb that means to respire. It can also refer to fabric that allows for good airflow.

For example,

  • It’s important to breathe in a controlled way while exercising. (first definition)
  • You need to buy some athletic clothes that breathe better. (second definition)

There are also some expressions and idioms that use breathe, some of which appear below:

  • to breathe freely/easy: to feel relaxed
    • After getting the job offer I can breathe easy again. I don’t have to worry about not having enough money to pay my rent now.
  • don’t breathe a word: don’t tell anyone
    • I only told you my secret. Don’t breathe a word of what I told you to anyone else.
  • as I live and breathe: Wow! (an expression of amazement, often upon seeing someone who one hasn’t seen in a very long time)
    • Is that Joe Smith? Oh my goodness, as I live and breathe, it is him! It’s been quite a while!
  • to be able to breathe again: to finally feel relaxed after a stressful period
    • I’m so glad all of my final exams are over. I can breathe again!
  • to breathe a sigh of relief: To feel relieved
    • Now that you are home I can finally breathe a sigh of relief! I thought you had gotten into an accident because you were so late!

As you can see from the expressions above, people often associate breathe with relaxation after a period of stress.

Remembering Breath vs. Breathe

Let’s look at a couple ways to help you remember which word is which.

The first way is related to the spelling of the noun breath. It has only two vowels, just like the noun air. This can help you remember the part of speech and the related meaning between these two words.

The second way is related to the spelling of the word breathe. It ends in the letter e and has a long e sound for the vowels in the middle of the word. There is also an e in the word verb, which should help you recall the part of speech.

Outside Examples

  • “The minute you walk in the door, it really takes your breath away,” said Jennifer Engel, the property’s other listing agent. “The layout is ideal.” –Denver Post
  • After he caught his breath against the ones, Alves could finally display the improvements he made to earn him the spot. –OC Register
  • One thing Banya 5 has going for it that other local day spas don’t: It’s open to men. So many of the other faves—Olympus Spa, Ladywell’s, Hot House—are for women only, but Banya accepts beards with open arms. Its Russian-style dry sauna, Turkish-style steam room studded with fresh eucalyptus boughs, hot tub with jets, and saltwater tepid pool lets visitors breathe all that city stress away, and is well worth the $45 fee. –Seattle Weekly
  • Whitney Brown was in labor with her first baby when suddenly she couldn’t breathe. –Wall Street Journal

Quiz: Breathe vs. Breath

Instructions: Fill in the blanks with the correct word, breathe or breath, in the correct form.

  • I ran for so long that I’m all out of _______________.
  • When you’re feeling stressed, just try to __________ slowly.
  • I’m worried my coworker doesn’t like me. Whenever he sees me he just mutters under his _____________.

See answers below.

Article Summary

Should I use breath or breathe? These words are very similar, but the fact that one is a noun and one is a verb means that you must follow different grammatical rules for each.

  • Breath is a noun that means respiration.
  • Breathe is a verb that means to respire.

Use the information you learned today to avoid confusing breath and breathe.


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