Brake or Break?

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Difference between "Brake" and "Break"?

"Brake" and "break" are easily confused because they sound identical.
  • Brake. A "brake" is a device for slowing a moving vehicle. "To brake" is the verb.
    (Note: Although rarely used these days, "brake" is also the word for a four-wheeled horse carriage and also a machine for crushing hemp.)
  • Break. A "break" most commonly means a period of rest or an interruption of continuity. The verb "to break" usually means to smash or to ruin. (More below)
brake or break?

More about "Brake" and "Break"

The words "break" and "brake" are homonyms. This means they sound identical but have different meanings.


The word "brake" has three main meanings:

(1) A device for slowing a moving vehicle (typically by adding friction to the wheels).

  • You do know that the brake is the pedal in the middle, don't you? correct tick
  • Please apply the handbrake. correct tick
In this meaning, "brake" is a noun.

Of course, there is also the associated verb:
  • Yes, very clever. It's time to brake now. Errr, now! correct tick

(2) An open horse-drawn carriage with four wheels.

(3) A toothed instrument used for crushing flax and hemp.


The word "break" has three main meanings:

(1) To separate into pieces (as a result of a block, shock, or pressure).

  • Shatterproof ruler? I managed to break it before I'd left the shop! correct tick
  • If God lived on earth, people would break his windows. correct tick (Jewish Proverb)
It can also be used figuratively:
  • That would break my heart. correct tick
  • Adversity causes some men to break — others to break records. correct tick (Writer William Arthur Ward)
In this meaning, "break" is a verb. It is like "to crack," "to smash," or "to shatter."

There is also the associated noun:
  • I can see the break on the x-ray. correct tick
  • (This is like the meaning below, i.e., an interruption of continuity.)

(2) A period of rest or an interruption of continuity.

  • I need to take a break. correct tick
  • (a period of rest)
  • There is a break in the pattern. correct tick
  • (an interruption of continuity)
In this meaning, "break" is a noun. It is like "interval," "pause," or "gap."

(3) To infringe or disobey.

  • Please do not break my trust in you. correct tick
  • It is much easier to break the rules when one's surrounded by strangers. One does not know any of them, so one cannot really care for their opinion. correct tick (Author Monica Fairview)
  • Men keep agreements when it is to the advantage of neither to break them. correct tick (Athenian statesman Solon)
In this meaning, "break" is a verb.

A Video Summary

Here is a short video summarizing the difference between "brake" and "break."

Are you a visual learner? Do you prefer video to text? Here is a list of all our grammar videos.

Remembering "Brake"

Some vehicles slow down by jamming a spike in the ground. The spike rakes the ground causing vehicle to decelerate. Let the "rake" in "brake" remind you that "brake" is used for slowing a vehicle.

Remembering "Break"

Let the "re" in "break" remind you of the word "rest."

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