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Your Quick Guide to "Break" vs. "Brake"

Do you break a promise and apply breaks? Or is it the other way around?

Break and brake are two homophones (words that sound the same but have different meanings) and are often confused in the English language. Let's look at the definition and context of each, as well as some examples, to help clarify the confusion.


Merriam-Webster defines break as follows:

  1. to separate into parts with suddenness or violence
  2. to cause (a bone) to separate into two or more pieces : fracture
  3. to cause an open wound in : rupture
  4. to cut into and turn over the surface of the soil
  5. to render inoperable broke his watch
  6. violate, transgress the law break or a promise

Note that break can be used as a noun or a verb, and can have multiple meanings—although all meanings relate to stopping something, separating something into parts, transgressing a law or promise, or rendering something inoperable.

Let's look at break used in both contexts:

Example of break used as a noun: "My lunch break was long enough to get some running time in."

Example of break used as a verb: "You can use my headphones, but please don't break them!"


Merriam-Webster defines brake as follows:

  1. a device for arresting or preventing the motion of a mechanism usually by means of friction
  2. something used to slow down or stop movement or activity

It's important to note that brake can be a noun or a verb, but both refer to the mechanical act of stopping something in motion. For example, let's look at brake used in both contexts:

Example of brake used as a noun: "I applied the brakes but the car wouldn't slow down fast enough to avoid a collision."

Example of brake used as a verb: "I braked as soon as I could but still couldn't avoid a collision."

An easy tip

Since "break" is obviously the most used of these two homophones, an easy way to remember how to distinguish between the two is to ask yourself if the action or noun to be used in a sentece is related to the mechanical act of stopping something. If so, use "brake". Otherwise, "break" is most likely the correct choice.

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