The words break and brake are homophones, so they are pronounced the same way (brāk). While both words can function as a noun or a verb, they do not mean the same thing. Avoid miscommunication by learning when to use break vs. brake in your writing.
When you're trying to decide between brake and break, ask yourself if you're talking about stopping or slowing down a piece of equipment, such as a vehicle.
- Brake only relates to slowing or stopping a vehicle.
- Break has multiple meanings, most of which aren't related to vehicles.
The key to remembering whether to use brake or break has to do with their past tense forms. Which of these sentences makes sense?
- I braked at the stop sign.
- I broke at the stop sign.
The first sentence is correct; the past tense version of brake is braked. If you use broke instead, it sounds like you fell apart at the stop sign!
Cars, bicycles and other vehicles have brakes that help them stop. While brake always refers to vehicle use, there are two ways to use it: as a noun and as a verb.
Break as a noun refers to a device that stops or slows the movement of a vehicle. For example:
- In a car, the brake pedal on the floorboard can reduce the speed.
- I use these hand brakes to slow my bike down.
- Hit the brakes, there's a deer in the road!
Brake as a verb refers to the act of causing a piece of equipment to stop by using a brake (noun). For example:
- If your car is approaching the hill, you need to brake.
- Reduce speed or brake in a school zone.
- Be prepared to brake when the road gets windy.
The word break has many different meanings, most of which involve separating into pieces. Unlike brake, you'll only use break in a sentence about a vehicle if something is broken or not working. Both the noun and verb forms of break have several important meanings.
When you use break as a noun, you're typically describing an interruption of some kind. For example:
- time of rest (to take a coffee break)
- planned interruption (a break in music on the radio for commercials to air)
- an advantage or good luck (to catch a break)
- the result of snapping, fracturing or separating (there is a break in the vase)
- an opening, gap, pause, interruption, or rupture (a break in the action)
- text spacing (leave a break between paragraphs)
- to forcibly enter into someone else's property (a break-in to a locked office or home)
- to escape confinement without permission and by force (a prison break)
The irregular verb break has many common meanings in the English language. They include:
- to separate or fracture into pieces (to cause a dish to break by dropping it)
- to cause something to stop working (improper usage can cause an item to break)
- to tame a wild animal (to break a horse)
- to exceed a previously set high point (to break the club record for scoring)
- to interrupt or stop something (to break up a fight)
- to reduce an impact (landing on a pillow can help break a fall)
- to solve something (to break a secret code)
- to reveal something (to break the big news)
- to violate something one would be expected to comply with (to break a law, vow or contract)
- to exchange large denominations of paper money into smaller ones (to break a $50 bill)
Use these practice questions to test yourself or to create a break vs. brake worksheet if you're working with students. The answers are below, so don't peek ahead. Choose which word fits each sentence, then check to see how you did.
- It's time for my lunch break/brake.
- What time will we break/brake for the day?
- Don't drive with your foot on the break/brake.
- You need to lightly press the break/brake in order to slow down.
- The doctor said that I'm lucky that I didn't break/brake my ankle.
- I'll leave the door unlocked so you don't have to break/brake into the house.
- If you break/brake your promise to me, I will never trust you again.
- I'm not sure how to break/brake the news of my bad grade to my parents.
- If you press the break/brake too hard, the car will jolt when it comes to a stop.
- I hope I don't break/brake my new drone the first time I fly it.
Now that you've tested your new knowledge with the practice items, take a look at the correctly completed sentences below to see how you did.
- It's time for my lunch break.
- What time will we break for the day?
- Don't drive with your foot on the brake.
- You need to lightly press the brake in order to slow down.
- The doctor said that I'm lucky that I didn't break my ankle.
- I'll leave the door unlocked so you don't have to break into the house.
- If you break your promise to me, I will never trust you again.
- I'm not sure how to break the news of my bad grade to my parents.
- If you press the brake too hard, the car will jolt when it comes to a stop.
- I hope I don't break my new drone the first time I fly it.
Review commonly confused words for clarification so you'll be ready the next time you have to choose. Reinforce your new knowledge with printable worksheets focused on often-confused terms. Then explore other confusing word pairs like stationary vs. stationery. You'll be prepared and ready for the next language conundrum that comes your way!