• 3-minute read
  • 20th May 2018

Word Choice: Brake vs. Break

With proofreading, it’s important to take things slowly. But if you need to slow down, do you apply the ‘brakes’ or apply the ‘breaks’? If you’re not sure, let’s take a look at what these words mean!

Brake (To Slow or Stop)

Snakes crossing here.
(Photo: Jennifer Aitkens/flickr)

To ‘brake’ is to slow down or stop something (usually a vehicle). For instance:

The bus driver braked as he saw the snake.

A device used to slow a vehicle down is also known as a ‘brake’ (e.g. the ‘parking brake’ in a car).

People sometimes use this word figuratively, but it still means slow down. For example, we might ‘put the brakes’ on a project to do more planning.

The simple past tense and past participle versions of this word are both ‘braked’.

Break (To Damage, Violate or Interrupt)

‘Break’ has quite a few meanings in different situations. As a verb, these include:

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  • Damage or destroy something (e.g. You will break your arm)
  • Violate a law or promise (e.g. If you break the law, you will go to jail)
  • Interrupt or end something (e.g. I think we should break up the band)
  • Reveal or make public (e.g. Please break the news gently)
  • Move suddenly (e.g. One wolf is breaking away from the pack)

As a noun, moreover, the word ‘break’ can mean:

  • The point of damage or separation (e.g. The policy is a break with tradition)
  • A temporary pause or interruption (e.g. The lunch break will be at 1pm)
  • A gap or opening (e.g. We walked towards the break in the tree line)
  • A vacation or holiday (e.g. We went for a weekend break in Fiji)

The past tense and past participle forms of this word are ‘broke’ and ‘broken’ respectively (not ‘breaked’). This is because ‘break’ is an irregular verb. In addition, ‘break’ is used in a number of phrases, such as ‘a tough break’ (i.e. bad luck) and ‘break bread’ (i.e. eat together).

Brake or Break?

Since ‘brake’ only has one common meaning, you can avoid errors as long as you know that this term refers to slowing something down (usually a car or vehicle). In almost any other situation, such as damaging or interrupting something, the correct word will be ‘break’. Remember:

Brake = Slow down or stop (or a device for doing this)

Break = Damage, violate or interrupt something

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