Breath or Breathe?

by Craig Shrives
The Quick Answer
What is the difference between breath and breathe?

A "breath" (which rhymes with "death") is the air inhaled or exhaled during breathing.

"To breathe" (rhymes with "seethe") means to inhale and expel air from the lungs.

Breath and Breathe

Writers occasionally confuse the words "breath" and "breathe."

Breath

The word "breath" is a noun that denotes the air either inhaled or exhaled during breathing. Colloquially, it can also mean a short pause (e.g., Take a breath and try again.)

Of note, "breath" rhymes with "death."

Examples:
  • Paul pinched his nose, took a breath and jumped off the boat.
  • He would fight until his last breath.

Breathe

The word "breathe" (which rhymes with "seethe") is a verb with the following closely related meanings:

To inhale and expel air from the lungs.
  • I can't breathe.
  • Is she breathing?
  • (Note: "Breathe" drops the "e" when "ing" is added.)
To allow gas or moisture to pass through.
  • The new synthetic material can breathe to prevent moisture building up against the skin.
To impart (often used figuratively).
  • He breathed new life into the project.
  • He breathed a sigh of relief.

A Trick to Spot "Breathe"

Native English speakers only tend to confuse "breath" and "breathe" in writing. Therefore, if you use the "e" on the end of "breathe" to remind you that the syllable "ea" is pronounced EE (i.e., "breathe" rhymes with "seethe"), then you will eliminate this error.

Common Terms with "Breath" and "Breathe"

Here are some common terms with the word "breath":
  • bad breath
  • breath control
  • breath droplets
  • breath freshener
  • breath of the Wild (console game)
  • breaths per minute
  • hold your breath
  • a deep breath
  • take my breath away
Here are some common terms with the word "breathe":
  • breathe deeply
  • breathe underwater
  • breathing control
  • (Remember that "breathe" drops the "e" when "ing" is added.)
  • breathing difficulty
  • I can't breathe
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? appraise or apprise? 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