Word Confusion: Brake versus Break

Posted June 16, 2012 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

This bit of confusion cracks me up when I come across it. Spring brake just doesn’t quite do it for me, as much as I do enjoy a break. And it can get quite expensive if you keep breaking your car… The insurance premiums alone could do you in.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

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Brake Break
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com

“Car Brake Test” courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and ProjectManhattan

“Break Dance” courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Kalka

Part of Grammar:
Adjective, Noun 1, 2, 3, 4, 5;
Verb, intransitive 1 & transitive

Plural for the noun and third person present verb: brakes
Past tense: braked, break [archaic] Past participle: braked
Gerund or present participle: braking

Noun, Verb, intransitive & transitive 6

Plural for the noun and third person present verb: breaks
Past tense: broke
Past participle: broken
Gerund or present participle: breaking

Historical term for brake

A particular type of system used with vehicles

Device for slowing or stopping a moving vehicle by applying pressure to the wheels 1

[Slang] Stopping

Toothed instrument used for crushing flax and hemp 3

[Archaic; poetic/literary] Thicket 4

Coarse fern of warm and tropical countries

[Archaic] Bracken 5

Verb, intransitive:
Make a moving vehicle slow down or stop

Verb, transitive:
To slow or stop by means of or as if by means of a brake

To furnish with brakes

To process flax or hemp by crushing it in a brake

An interruption of continuity or uniformity

  • A change in the weather
  • [With modifier] A change of line, paragraph, or page
  • A change of tone in the voice due to emotion
  • An interruption in an electrical circuit
  • [Tennis; also break of serve or service break] The winning of a game against an opponent’s serve

A pause from work or during an activity or event

  • A short vacation
  • A short solo or instrumental passage in jazz or popular music

A gap or opening

  • An instance of breaking

A rush or dash in a particular direction, especially by an attacking player or team

  • A breakout, especially from prison
  • A curve or drop in the path of a pitched baseball

[Informal] An opportunity or chance, especially one leading to professional success

[Billiards & Snooker] A player’s turn to make the opening shot of a game or a rack

  • A consecutive series of successful shots, scoring a specified number of points

Interrupt a continuity, sequence, or course

  • Lessen the impact of a fall

Verb, intransitive:
Separate or cause to separate into pieces as a result of a blow, shock, or strain

  • Sustain an injury involving the fracture of a bone or bones in a part of the body
  • Make or become inoperative
  • [Of the amniotic fluid surrounding a fetus] Be or cause to be discharged when the sac is ruptured in the first stages of labor
  • [Of two boxers or wrestlers] Come out of a clinch, typically at the referee’s command

Stop proceedings in order to have a pause or vacation

  • [Chiefly of an attacking player or team, or of a military force] Make a rush or dash in a particular direction
  • Surpass a record
  • Disconnect or interrupt an electrical circuit
  • [Of a pitched baseball] Curve or drop on its way toward the batter
  • [Soccer; of the ball] Rebound unpredictably
  • [Cricket; of a bowled cricket ball] Change direction on bouncing, due to spin

[Of a person’s emotional strength] Give way

Undergo a change or enter a new state, in particular

  • [Of the weather] Change suddenly
  • [Of a storm] Begin violently
  • [Of dawn or day] Begin with the sun rising
  • [Of clouds] Move apart and begin to disperse
  • [Of waves] Curl over and dissolve into foam
  • [Of the voice] Falter and change tone, due to emotion
  • [Of a boy’s voice] Change in tone and register at puberty
  • [Phonetics; of a vowel] Develop into a diphthong, under the influence of an adjacent sound
  • [Of prices on the stock exchange] Fall sharply
  • [Of news or a scandal] Suddenly become public
  • Make the first stroke at the beginning of a game of billiards, pool, or snooker

Verb, transitive:
Separate or cause to separate into pieces as a result of a blow, shock, or strain

  • Sustain an injury involving the fracture of a bone or bones in a part of the body
  • Cause a cut or graze in the skin
  • Make or become inoperative
  • Open a safe forcibly
  • Use a piece of paper currency to pay for something and receive change out of the transaction
  • Unfurl a flag or sail
  • Succeed in deciphering a code
  • Open a shotgun or rifle at the breech
  • Disprove an alibi
  • Invalidate a will through legal process

Interrupt a continuity, sequence, or course

  • Put an end to (a silence) by speaking or making contact
  • Make a pause in a journey
  • Lessen the impact of a fall
  • Stop oneself from being subject to a habit
  • Put an end to a tie in a game by making a score
  • Surpass a record
  • Disconnect or interrupt an electrical circuit

Fail to observe a law, regulation, or agreement

  • Fail to continue with a self-imposed discipline

Crush the emotional strength, spirit, or resistance of

  • Destroy the power of a movement or organization
  • Destroy the effectiveness of a strike, typically by bringing in other people to replace the striking workers
  • Tame or train a horse

[Break something to someone] Make bad news known to someone

The middle pedal in a manual transmission-equipped car is the brake pedal.

It has an anti-lock braking system.

Honey, can you have them check the brakes when you take the car in?

Hey, kiddo, put the brakes on!

Pump the brakes gently when driving in the snow.

The brake fern has a high appetite for arsenic.

Verb, intransitive:
Braking in the snow requires short taps on the pedal.

I hate drivers who brake abruptly.

Verb, transitive:
She had to brake hard to avoid a milk float.

He lit a cigarette and braked the car slightly.

A brake harrow is handy for braking flax or hemp fibers.

He heard tires squeal as the car braked to avoid a collision.

She braked sharply to avoid another car.

She braked to a halt and switched off.

The magazine has been published without a break since 1950.

Many students head to the beaches for spring break.

A week or so may pass without a break in the weather.

Those dotted lines on the screen show page breaks.

There was a break in her voice now.

He made a bounce pass for a basket on the break in the second quarter.

There was a prison break last week.

This boy can put a nice break on a ball.

He got his break as an entertainer on a TV music hall show.

The potential of the battery is available across the break.

Verb, intransitive:
Be careful or the rope will break.

Don’t drop a slate lest it break.

What if his leg had broken?

The machine has broken, and they can’t fix it until next week.

She realized her water had broken.

I was acting as referee and telling them to break.

We’ll break about ten.

The flight broke to the right and formed a defensive circle.

The ball is breaking left.

The ball broke to Craig, but his shot rebounded from the post.

If the ball breaks too often, it may have to be replaced.

Her self-control will break.

Have patience. The weather will break.

The storm broke, and the rain came down in buckets.

Dawn was just breaking.

He stopped to wait for a break in traffic.

The clouds began to break up and disperse.

The Caribbean sea was breaking gently on the shore.

Her voice broke as she relived the experience.

Kevin’s voice is breaking.

It depend on if it’s breaking due to a following r or h.

Traders buy the underlying asset when the price breaks above a level of resistance or when it breaks below a level of support (Breakout Definition).

Since the news broke I’ve received thousands of wonderful letters.

Hal prefers to let his opponent break at snooker.

Verb, transitive:
The blast will break all the windows.

First, break the chocolate into pieces.

She had broken her leg in two places.

The bite had scarcely broken the skin.

He’ll break the video again.

We’ll have to break that safe open.

She had to break a ten.

Break out the sails!

Margie can break that code.

Break that open and put more bullets open.

We have to break Kenny’s alibi.

We have to break Grandma’s will!

You should never break a contract.

The new government will break the pattern of growth.

His concentration was broken by a sound.

Our not talking was getting so uncomfortable, that Elaine finally broke the silence.

We will break our journey in Venice.

She put out an arm to break her fall.

I will break that habit.

The Celtics break the tie in a last minute save.

I predict that the movie will break box-office records.

If the circuit breaks, you won’t get any juice to that outlet.

The district attorney says she will prosecute retailers who break the law.

It is a legally binding contract that can only be broken by mutual consent.

Do some research or you’ll break your diet before you begin.

The idea was to better the prisoners, not to break them.

Gotta break down that silo mentality.

They brought men in to break the strike.

He uses gentle methods to break a horse.

Paul, you’ll have to break the news as carefully as you can.

Adjective: brakeless
Noun: brakeman, canebrake, fernbrake
Adjective: breakable, breakless, nonbreakable
Adverb: breakably
Noun: breakableness
Phrasal Verb
break away
break down
break something down
break even
break forth
break free
break in
break someone in
break something in
break in on
break into
break off
break something off
break something open
break out
break out in
break out of
break something out
break through
break up
break someone up
break something up
break with
History of the Word:
1 Late-18th century

2 Open, horse-drawn, four-wheeled carriage

3 Late Middle English: possibly related to Middle Low German brake and Dutch braak

4 Old English bracu (first recorded in the plural in fearnbraca, meaning thickets of fern), related to Middle Low German brake, meaning branch, stump.

5 Middle English: perhaps an abbreviation of bracken (interpreted as plural).

6 Old English brecan is of Germanic origin and related to Dutch breken and German brechen, from an Indo-European root shared by Latin frangere, meaning to break.

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves? Also, please note that I try to be as accurate as I can, but mistakes happen or I miss something. Email me if you find errors, so I can fix them…and we’ll all benefit!

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Pinterest Photo Credits:

“Car Crash” is Thue’s own work, which has been released into the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

One response to “Word Confusion: Brake versus Break

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