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?
  • 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!
(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!
  • 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. (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.
  • (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.
  • (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."

(3) 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. (Author Monica Fairview)
  • Men keep agreements when it is to the advantage of neither to break them. (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."

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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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? bear or bare (witness, the brunt, fruit)? who's or whose? The top 20 misspelled words List of easily confused words

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