“Breathe” vs. “Breath”: What’s the Difference?

, Linguistics & Brand Editor
Updated November 29, 2022
Definitions of "breath" and "breathe" from the article
    illustration of woman and man with breath vs breathe definitions
    man: Inna Miller / iStock / Getty Images Plus / woman: Alina Kotliar / iStock / Getty Images Plus / via Getty created by YourDictionary
    Used under Getty Images license

After you’ve run a few miles (or maybe just up the stairs), do you need to catch your breath, or breathe? Learning when and how to use each word can be a little tricky since there’s only one letter setting them apart. So, take a deep breath while we walk you through the differences between breath and breathe, how to pronounce each word, and how to use them correctly.

What Does “Breath” Mean?

The word breath is a noun that refers to “the product of breathing: the air that is taken into the lungs and let out.” If you’ve ever taken a yoga class, you may have heard the phrase “in through the nose, out through the mouth.” Each one of those cycles is your breath.

Breath is pronounced “breth” with a short “e” sound, like death or bread. It does have other senses, and is frequently used in idioms (you can read some of them below!).


Origin of “Breath”

The word breath as we use it today dates back to the 1200s, but its origin goes back even earlier. Breath comes from the Old English bræð, where it had once meant “odor or smell.” (Perhaps everyone really had bad breath back then.) By the 1200s, it was used to refer to the air passing through one’s lungs.

How To Use “Breath” in a Sentence

Don’t worry about trying to figure out how to use breath. These examples show how to use it properly in a sentence:

  • It was so cold outside, I could see my breath.
  • He was gasping for a breath after running the race.
  • I took deep breaths and tried to relax before giving my speech.
  • Please wait until I catch my breath!
  • Always brush your teeth well, so you can prevent bad breath.

What Does “Breathe” Mean?

The word breathe is a verb that means “to take a breath by inhaling and exhaling.” Breathe is pronounced “breeth” with a long “e” sound, like seethe or teethe. Pro tip: That extra “e” at the end of breathe should indicate to you that it will have the /ee/ sound. Interestingly, the word breath used to be pronounced with the /ee/ sound, but now that is how we pronounce breathe.

Early records of breathe date back to the 1300s, possibly earlier. It also has other related meanings and uses, but it’s important to remember that all of these uses are verbs.


How To Use “Breathe” in a Sentence

Breathe some life into your language by reviewing examples that show how to use breathe in a sentence. 

  • Fish can breathe underwater since they have gills.
  • It can be difficult to breathe through your nose when you have a cold.
  • With this high altitude, let's stop and take a minute to breathe.
  • She breathes deeply when she feels anxious.
  • He was breathing hard after running to the library and back.

Tips To Remember the Difference Between “Breath” and “Breathe”

Looking for a simple way to remember when to use breath or breathe? These tips will help you remember that it all comes down to that “e” at the end.

Pronunciation Tips:

  • Breathe has the extra “e” at the end, so pronounce it with the /ee/ sound.
  • Breath does not have the extra “e,” so pronounce it with the short /e/ sound.

Usage Tips:

  • The “th” in breath and thing sound the same, so use breath to refer to a thing (catch my breath).
  • Think of the “e” in verb. Use breathe (with the extra “e”) for doing something or showing an action (breathe in deeply).
  • If you are referring to exhaling, remember that exhale starts with “e,” so use the word with the extra “e” at the end: breathe.

It might help to keep this simple phrase in mind: You need to take a breath in order to breathe.


Common Phrases and Idioms That Use “Breath” and “Breathe”

Take a moment to catch your breath by looking at some of the common phrases and idioms that include breath and breathe, along with their meanings.

Idiom or Phrase Example


I wouldn’t hold your breath.

I wouldn’t wait or expect an outcome to happen.

You’re a breath of fresh air.

You’re a refreshing change.

Give me a minute to catch my breath.

Let me return my breathing to a normal rate (e.g., after exercising).

I love you more with every breath.

My love for you increases as time goes on.

My world changed in just one breath.

My world changed in an instant.

What is she muttering under her breath?

What is she saying quietly to herself?

Just save your breath.

Don’t waste your time talking about something.

I’ll keep that secret to my last breath.

I’ll never reveal that secret.

It changes from one breath to the next.

It changes all the time.

It will breathe new life into you.

It will energize you.

I don’t even have time to breathe.

I don’t have any free time at all.

I can’t wait to breathe easily again.

I can’t wait to relax again.

Don’t breathe down my neck.

Don’t constantly check on me/my work.

As I live and breathe.

What a surprise! (Used to express surprise or shock upon encountering someone or something).

Do not breathe a word to Dad.

Do not tell Dad anything about this.


What a Difference a Letter Makes

Hopefully, this guide has been a breath of fresh air, and you have a better understanding of the uses of breath and breathe. It turns out there are many word pairs whose differences hang in the balance of a single letter, like loose vs. lose and stationary vs. stationery.