Solving your writing problems since 1998!

Brake vs. Break – How to Pick the Correct Word

Brake vs. Break – How to Pick the Correct Word

Both break and brake are correct spellings, yet the two words have different definitions. Whether you should use break or brake depends on the context in your writing.

Short and Sweet: Break vs. Brake

Both break and brake can be either a verb or a noun.

  • As a verb, break means to render a whole into pieces. The past tense of break is broke. As a noun, break identifies the point at which the pieces separated.
  • As a verb, brake means to slow down or stop. The past tense of brake is braked. As a noun a brake is a mechanism used to slow something down.

What Does Break Mean?

Meaning of Break: Break has two uses: as a verb and a noun. Both are related to each other, so let’s take a look at them.

Break as a verb. Often, break means to damage or destroy. In other contexts, it simply means to interrupt or deliberately separate into pieces.

  • If you break a dish on the floor, be sure to sweep up all the little shards.
  • Break the chocolate bar in half so we can share it.

People can break non-physical things, too. Break means to violate or disrupt, as in break a pattern, break a habit, break the law, break a spell, break the silence, or break someone’s concentration.

The verb break also means to simplify or deliberately separate into more manageable parts.

  • The textbook breaks each chapter down into smaller sections.
  • Can you break this 20 dollar bill for me? I need two fives and a ten.

Break is used in many other contexts and phrases. One can break bad news, break into a house, break in new shoes, break (tame) a horse, break a sweat, and break a fever, to name a few. The most common use, however, has to do with separating pieces, e.g., You broke the window.

Break as a noun. A break is the point of fracture.

For example,

  • On the x-ray you can see the break in the bone.
  • Through a break in the crowd, I could see the other side of the square.

Also, break is very commonly used to mean a “time out” from an activity. Whether you are at work, class, or the gym, many people take breaks to break up an activity into shorter stretches of time.

  • You can take your lunch break at 1:00.
  • It’s a good technique to take a 10-minute break after 30 minutes of studying.

What Does Brake Mean?

Meaning of Brake: Brake is much simpler verb. It means to slow or stop the motion of an object. Most commonly this refers heavy machinery, such as a car.

  • She braked hard driving down the hill.
  • I always brake for squirrels when they run into the road.

This can be confusing because a car can both brake and break. If your car brakes, that’s good; braking is a vital function of any vehicle. It’s not good if your car breaks. That means costly repairs at the mechanic!

As a noun, a brake, or the brakes, is the physical mechanism that causes something to slow or stop.

  • There is always an emergency brake on the side of a trash compactor.
  • I need to replace the brakes on my bike.

While it usually refers to a moving machine, brake can sometimes be used metaphorically.

  • Let’s put the brakes on this project until we can raise more funding.

Brake vs. Break: How to Remember the Difference

The way to remember whether to use brake or break is with some imagery.

Imagine you are in a car that is headed straight for a lake. You need to hit the brakes to stop the car! When a faucet breaks it springs a leak, and needs to be fixed!

Recap: When to Use Break and Brake

Use brake only for slowing or stopping something in motion. Break has many uses, almost always meaning that something is disrupted, damaged, or divided into pieces.