Brake or Break?

by Craig Shrives
The Quick Answer
A brake is a device for slowing a moving vehicle. To brake is the verb.
(Note: It's quite rare, but brake is also the word for a four-wheeled horse carriage and also a machine for crushing hemp.)

Break most commonly means a period of rest or an interruption of continuity. (More below)

Brake and Break

The words break and brake sound identical, but their meanings are quite different.

Click on the Two Correct Sentences
(Interactive Game)

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The word brake has several meanings:

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?
  • Please apply the handbrake.
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!
An open horse-drawn carriage with four wheels.

A toothed instrument used for crushing flax and hemp.


The word break has many meanings:

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!
  • If God lived on earth, people would break his
    windows. (Jewish Proverb)
It can also be used figuratively:
  • That would break my heart.
  • Adversity causes some men to break — others to break records.(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.
  • (This is like the meaning below, i.e., an interruption of continuity.)
A period of rest or an interruption of continuity.
  • I need to take a break.
  • (a period of rest)
  • There is a break in the pattern.
  • (an interruption of continuity)
In this meaning, break is a noun. It is like interval, pause, or gap.

To infringe or disobey.
  • Please do not break my trust in you.
  • 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. (Monica Fairview)
  • Men keep agreements when it is to the advantage of neither to break them. (Solon, 638 BC-559 BC)
In this meaning, break is a verb.

A Video Summary

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

Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

adverse or averse? affect or effect? Ms., Miss, or Mrs? avenge or revenge? bare or bear? complement or compliment? dependant or dependent? discreet or discrete? disinterested or uninterested? e.g. or i.e.? envy or jealousy? imply or infer? its or it's? material or materiel? poisonous or venomous? practice or practise? principal or principle? tenant or tenet? who's or whose? What are nouns? What are verbs? List of easily confused words