1. past participle of break.


  1. reduced to fragments; fragmented.
  2. ruptured; torn; fractured.
  3. not functioning properly; out of working order.
  4. Meteorology. (of sky cover) being more than half, but not totally, covered by clouds.Compare scattered(def 4).
  5. changing direction abruptly: The fox ran in a broken line.
  6. fragmentary or incomplete: a broken ton of coal weighing 1,500 pounds.
  7. infringed or violated: A broken promise is a betrayal of trust.
  8. interrupted, disrupted, or disconnected: After the phone call he returned to his broken sleep.
  9. weakened in strength, spirit, etc.: His broken health was due to alcoholism.
  10. tamed, trained, or reduced to submission: The horse was broken to the saddle.
  11. imperfectly spoken, as language: She still speaks broken English.
  12. spoken in a halting or fragmentary manner, as under emotional strain: He uttered a few broken words of sorrow.
    1. (of a relationship) split apart; not intact: a broken marriage.
    2. (of a family) disunited or divided by the prolonged or permanent absence of a parent, usually due to divorce or desertion: a child from a broken home; broken families.
  13. not smooth; rough or irregular: We left the plains and rode through broken country.
  14. ruined; bankrupt: the broken fortunes of his family.
  15. Papermaking, Printing. a quantity of paper of less than 500 or 1000 sheets.

verb (used with object), broke or (Archaic) brake; bro·ken or (Archaic) broke; break·ing.

  1. to smash, split, or divide into parts violently; reduce to pieces or fragments: He broke a vase.
  2. to infringe, ignore, or act contrary to (a law, rule, promise, etc.): She broke her promise.
  3. to dissolve or annul (often followed by off): to break off friendly relations with another country.
  4. to fracture a bone of (some part of the body): He broke his leg.
  5. to lacerate; wound: to break the skin.
  6. to destroy or interrupt the regularity, uniformity, continuity, or arrangement of; interrupt: The bleating of a foghorn broke the silence. The troops broke formation.
  7. to put an end to; overcome; stop: His touchdown run broke the tie. She found it hard to break the cigarette habit.
  8. to discover the system, key, method, etc., for decoding or deciphering (a cryptogram), especially by the methods of cryptanalysis.
  9. to remove a part from (a set or collection): She had to break the set to sell me the two red ones I wanted.
  10. to exchange for or divide into smaller units or components: She broke a dollar bill into change. The prism broke the light into all the colors of the rainbow.
  11. to make a way through; penetrate: The stone broke the surface of the water.
  12. Law.
    1. to open or force one’s way into (a dwelling, store, etc.).
    2. to contest (a will) successfully by judicial action.
  13. to make one’s way out of, especially by force: to break jail.
  14. to better (a given score or record): He never broke 200 in bowling or 80 in golf.
  15. to disclose or divulge personally in speech or writing: He broke the good news to her at dinner.
  16. to solve: The police needed only a week to break that case.
  17. to rupture (a blood vessel): She almost broke a blood vessel from laughing so hard.
  18. to disable or destroy by or as if by shattering or crushing: to break a watch.
  19. to cause (a blister, boil, or the like) to burst, as by puncturing: She broke the blister with a needle.
  20. to ruin financially; make bankrupt: They threatened to break him if he didn’t stop discounting their products.
  21. to overcome or wear down the spirit, strength, or resistance of; to cause to yield, especially under pressure, torture, or the like: They broke him by the threat of blackmail.
  22. to dismiss or reduce in rank.
  23. to impair or weaken the power, effect, or intensity of: His arm broke the blow.
  24. to train to obedience; tame: to break a horse.
  25. to train away from a habit or practice (usually followed by of).
  26. Electricity. to render (a circuit) incomplete; stop the flow of (a current).
  27. Journalism.
    1. to release (a story) for publication or airing on radio or television: They will break the story tomorrow.
    2. to continue (a story or article) on another page, especially when the page is not the following one.
  28. Pool. to cause (racked billiard balls) to scatter by striking with the cue ball.
  29. Sports.
    1. (of a pitcher, bowler, etc.) to hurl (a ball) in such a way as to cause it to change direction after leaving the hand: He broke a curve over the plate for a strike.
    2. (in tennis and other racket games) to score frequently or win against (an opponent’s serve).
  30. Nautical. to unfurl (a flag) suddenly by an easily released knot.
  31. to prove the falsity or show the lack of logic of: The FBI broke his alibi by proving he knew how to shoot a pistol.
  32. to begin or initiate (a plan or campaign), especially with much publicity: They were going to break the sales campaign with a parade in April.
  33. to open the breech or action of (a shotgun, rifle, or revolver), as by snapping open the hinge between the barrel and the butt.

verb (used without object), broke or (Archaic) brake; bro·ken or (Archaic) broke; break·ing.

  1. to shatter, burst, or become broken; separate into parts or fragments, especially suddenly and violently: The glass broke on the floor.
  2. to become suddenly discontinuous or interrupted; stop abruptly: She pulled too hard and the string broke.
  3. to become detached, separated, or disassociated (usually followed by away, off, or from): The knob broke off in his hand.
  4. to become inoperative or to malfunction, as through wear or damage: The television set broke this afternoon.
  5. to begin suddenly or violently or change abruptly into something else: War broke over Europe.
  6. to begin uttering a sound or series of sounds or to be uttered suddenly: She broke into song. When they entered, a cheer broke from the audience.
  7. to express or start to express an emotion or mood: His face broke into a smile.
  8. to free oneself or escape suddenly, as from restraint or dependency (often followed by away): He broke away from the arresting officer. She finally broke away from her parents and got an apartment of her own.
  9. to run or dash toward something suddenly (usually followed by for): The pass receiver broke for the goal line.
  10. to force a way (usually followed by in, into, or through): The hunters broke through the underbrush.
  11. to burst or rupture: A blood vessel broke in his nose. The blister broke when he pricked it.
  12. to interrupt or halt an activity (usually followed by in, into, forth, or from): Don’t break in on the conversation. Let’s break for lunch.
  13. to appear or arrive suddenly (usually followed by in, into, or out): A deer broke into the clearing. A rash broke out on her arm.
  14. to dawn: The day broke hot and sultry.
  15. to begin violently and suddenly: The storm broke.
  16. (of a storm, foul weather, etc.) to cease: The weather broke after a week, and we were able to sail for home.
  17. to part the surface of water, as a jumping fish or surfacing submarine.
  18. to give way or fail, as health, strength, or spirit; collapse: After years of hardship and worry, his health broke.
  19. to yield or submit to pressure, torture, or the like: He broke under questioning.
  20. (of the heart) to be overwhelmed with sorrow: Her heart broke when he told her that he no longer loved her.
  21. (of the voice or a musical instrument) to change harshly from one register or pitch to another: After his voice broke, he could no longer sing soprano parts.
  22. (of the voice) to cease, waver, or change tone abruptly, especially from emotional strain: His voice broke when he mentioned her name.
  23. (of value or prices) to drop sharply and considerably.
  24. to disperse or collapse by colliding with something: The waves broke on the shore.
  25. to break dance.
  26. (of a horse in a harness race) to fail to keep to a trot or pace, as by starting to gallop.
  27. Botany. to mutate; sport.
  28. Linguistics. to undergo breaking.
  29. Billiards, Pool. to make a break; take the first turn in a game.
  30. Sports. (of a pitched or bowled ball) to change direction: The ball broke over the plate.
  31. Horse Racing, Track. to leave the starting point: The horses broke fast from the gate.
  32. Boxing. to step back or separate from a clinch: The fighters fell into a clinch and broke on the referee’s order.
  33. to take place; occur.
  34. Journalism. to become known, published, or aired: The story broke in the morning papers.
  35. Horticulture. to produce flowers or leaves.


  1. an act or instance of breaking; disruption or separation of parts; fracture; rupture: There was a break in the window.
  2. an opening made by breaking; gap: The break in the wall had not been repaired.
  3. a rush away from a place; an attempt to escape: a break for freedom.
  4. a sudden dash or rush, as toward something: When the rain lessened, I made a break for home.
  5. a suspension of or sudden rupture in friendly relations.
  6. an interruption of continuity; departure from or rupture with: Abstract painters made a break with the traditions of the past.
  7. an abrupt or marked change, as in sound or direction, or a brief pause: They noticed a curious break in his voice.
  8. Informal.
    1. an opportunity or stroke of fortune, especially a lucky one.
    2. a chance to improve one’s lot, especially one unlooked for or undeserved.
  9. the breaks, Informal. the way things happen; fate: Sorry to hear about your bad luck, but I guess those are the breaks.
  10. a brief rest, as from work: The actors took a ten-minute break from rehearsal.
  11. Radio, Television. a brief, scheduled interruption of a program or broadcasting period for the announcement of advertising or station identification.
  12. Prosody. a pause or caesura.
  13. Jazz. a solo passage, usually of from 2 to 12 bars, during which the rest of the instruments are silent.
  14. Music. the point in the scale where the quality of voice of one register changes to that of another, as from chest to head.
  15. break dancing.
  16. a sharp and considerable drop in the prices of stock issues.
  17. Electricity. an opening or discontinuity in a circuit.
  18. Printing.
    1. one or more blank lines between two paragraphs.
    2. breaks.suspension points.
  19. the place, after a letter, where a word is or may be divided at the end of a line.
  20. a collapse of health, strength, or spirit; breakdown.
  21. Informal. an indiscreet or awkward remark or action; social blunder; faux pas.
  22. Billiards, Pool. a series of successful strokes; run.
  23. Pool. the opening play, in which the cue ball is shot to scatter the balls.
  24. Sports. a change in direction of a pitched or bowled ball.
  25. Horse Racing, Track. the start of a race.
  26. (in harness racing) an act or instance of a horse’s changing from a trot or pace into a gallop or other step.
  27. Bowling. a failure to knock down all ten pins in a single frame.
  28. Boxing. an act or instance of stepping back or separating from a clinch: a clean break.
  29. any of several stages in the grinding of grain in which the bran is separated from the kernel.
  30. Botany. a sport.
  31. Journalism. the point at the bottom of a column where a printed story is carried over to another column or page.
  32. Nautical. the place at which a superstructure, deckhouse, or the like, rises from the main deck of a vessel.
  33. breaks, Physical Geography. an area dissected by small ravines and gullies.
  34. Mining. a fault or offset, as in a vein or bed of ore.

Verb Phrases

  1. break away,
    1. to leave or escape, especially suddenly or hurriedly.
    2. to sever connections or allegiance, as to tradition or a political group.
    3. to start prematurely: The horse broke away from the starting gate.
  2. break back, Tennis. to win a game served by an opponent immediately after the opponent has done so against one’s own serve.
  3. break down,
    1. to become ineffective.
    2. to lose control; weaken: He broke down and wept at the sad news.
    3. to have a physical or mental collapse.
    4. to cease to function: The car broke down.
    5. to itemize: to break down a hotel bill into daily charges.
    6. separate (a compound) into its constituent molecules.
    7. Electricity.(of an insulator) to fail, as when subjected to excessively high voltage, permitting a current to pass.
    8. to decompose.
    9. to analyze.
    10. to classify.
    11. to separate into constituent parts: to break down a beef carcass into basic cuts.
  4. break in,
    1. to enter by force or craft: Someone broke in and made off with all the furniture.
    2. to train or instruct; initiate: The boss is breaking in a new assistant.
    3. to begin to wear or use in order to make comfortable: These shoes haven’t been broken in.
    4. to interrupt: He broke in with a ridiculous objection.
    5. to run (new machinery) initially under reduced load and speed, until any stiffness of motion has departed and all parts are ready to operate under normal service conditions; run in; wear in.
  5. break in on/upon, to enter with force upon or accidentally interrupt; intrude upon: The visitor opened the wrong door and broke in on a private conference.
  6. break into,
    1. to interpose; interrupt: He broke into the conversation at a crucial moment.
    2. to begin some activity.
    3. to be admitted into; enter, as a business or profession: It is difficult to break into the theater.
    4. to enter by force: They broke into the store and stole the safe.
  7. break off,
    1. to sever by breaking.
    2. to stop suddenly; discontinue: to break off a conversation; to break off relations with one’s neighbors.
  8. break out,
    1. to begin abruptly; arise: An epidemic broke out.
    2. Pathology.(of certain diseases) to appear in eruptions.
    3. (of a person) to manifest a skin eruption.
    4. to prepare for use: to break out the parachutes.
    5. to take out of (storage, concealment, etc.) for consumption: to break out one’s best wine.
    6. dislodge (the anchor) from the bottom.
    7. to escape; flee: He spent three years in prison before he broke out.
    8. to separate into categories or list specific items: to break out gift ideas according to price range; The report breaks out quarterly profits and losses.
  9. break up,
    1. to separate; scatter.
    2. to put an end to; discontinue.
    3. to divide or become divided into pieces.
    4. to dissolve.
    5. to disrupt; upset: Television commercials during a dramatic presentation break up the continuity of effect.
    6. (of a personal relationship) to end: to break up a friendship; Their marriage broke up last year.
    7. to end a personal relationship: Bob and Mary broke up last month.
    8. to be or cause to be overcome with laughter: The comedian told several jokes that broke up the audience.
  10. break with,
    1. to sever relations with; separate from: to break with one’s family.
    2. to depart from; repudiate: to break with tradition.
  1. break bulk, Nautical. to remove a cargo wholly or in part.
  2. break camp, to pack up tents and equipment and resume a journey or march: They broke camp at dawn and proceeded toward the mountains.
  3. break even, to finish a business transaction, period of gambling, series of games, etc., with no loss or gain: He played poker all night and broke even.
  4. break ground,
    1. to begin construction, especially of a building or group of buildings: to break ground for a new housing development.
    2. free an anchor from the bottom; break out.
  5. break it down, Australian Slang.
    1. stop it; calm down.
    2. (used as an exclamation of disbelief) that can’t be true!
  6. break (someone’s) heart. to cause someone great disappointment or sorrow, as to disappoint in love: It breaks my heart to hear you are leaving me.
  7. break service, Tennis. to win a game served by one’s opponent.
  8. break sheer, Nautical. (of an anchored vessel) to drift into such a position as to risk fouling the anchor or anchor cable.Compare sheer2(def 6).
  9. break step. step(def 38).
  10. break wind. to expel gas from the stomach and bowels through the anus.
  11. give me a break, Informal. (used to express annoyance, disbelief, etc.): He didn’t show up again? Oh, give me a break!


  1. the past participle of break


  1. fractured, smashed, or splintereda broken vase
  2. imperfect or incomplete; fragmentarya broken set of books
  3. interrupted; disturbed; disconnectedbroken sleep
  4. intermittent or discontinuousbroken sunshine
  5. varying in direction or intensity, as of pitcha broken note; a broken run
  6. not functioninga broken radio
  7. spoilt or ruined by divorce (esp in the phrases broken home, broken marriage)
  8. (of a trust, promise, contract, etc) violated; infringed
  9. overcome with grief or disappointmenta broken heart
  10. (of the speech of a foreigner) imperfect in grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciationbroken English
  11. Also: broken-in made tame or disciplined by traininga broken horse; a broken recruit
  12. exhausted or weakened as through ill-health or misfortune
  13. confused or disorganizedbroken ranks of soldiers
  14. breached or openedbroken defensive lines
  15. irregular or rough; unevenbroken ground
  16. bankrupt or out of moneya broken industry
  17. (of colour) having a multicoloured decorative effect, as by stippling paint onto a surface
  18. Southern African informal drunk

verb breaks, breaking, broke or broken

  1. to separate or become separated into two or more piecesthis cup is broken
  2. to damage or become damaged so as to be inoperativemy radio is broken
  3. to crack or become cracked without separating
  4. to burst or cut the surface of (skin, etc)
  5. to discontinue or become discontinuedthey broke for lunch; to break a journey
  6. to disperse or become dispersedthe clouds broke
  7. (tr) to fail to observe (an agreement, promise, law, etc)to break one’s word
  8. (foll by with) to discontinue an association (with)
  9. to disclose or be disclosedhe broke the news gently
  10. (tr) to fracture (a bone) in (a limb, etc)
  11. (tr) to divide (something complete or perfect)to break a set of books
  12. to bring or come to an endthe summer weather broke at last
  13. (tr) to bring to an end by or as if by forceto break a strike
  14. (when intr , often foll by out) to escape (from)he broke jail; he broke out of jail
  15. to weaken or overwhelm or be weakened or overwhelmed, as in spirit
  16. (tr) to cut through or penetratea cry broke the silence
  17. (tr) to improve on or surpassto break a record
  18. (tr often foll by in) to accustom (a horse) to the bridle and saddle, to being ridden, etc
  19. (tr often foll by of) to cause (a person) to give up (a habit)this cure will break you of smoking
  20. (tr) to weaken the impact or force ofthis net will break his fall
  21. (tr) to decipherto break a code
  22. (tr) to lose the order ofto break ranks
  23. (tr) to reduce to poverty or the state of bankruptcy
  24. (when intr , foll by into) to obtain, give, or receive smaller units in exchange for; changeto break a pound note
  25. (tr) mainly military to demote to a lower rank
  26. (intr ; often foll by from or out of) to proceed suddenly
  27. (intr) to come into beinglight broke over the mountains
  28. (intr ; foll by into or out into)
    1. to burst into song, laughter, etc
    2. to change to a faster pace
  29. (tr) to open with explosivesto break a safe
  30. (intr) (of waves)
    1. (often foll by against)to strike violently
    2. to collapse into foam or surf
  31. (intr) (esp of fish) to appear above the surface of the water
  32. (intr) (of the amniotic fluid surrounding an unborn baby) to be released when the amniotic sac ruptures in the first stage of labourher waters have broken
  33. (intr) informal, mainly US to turn out in a specified mannerthings are breaking well
  34. (intr) (of prices, esp stock exchange quotations) to fall sharply
  35. (intr) to make a sudden effort, as in running, horse racing, etc
  36. (intr) cricket (of a ball) to change direction on bouncing
  37. (tr) cricket (of a player) to knock down at least one bail from (a wicket)
  38. (intr) billiards snooker to scatter the balls at the start of a game
  39. (intr) horse racing to commence running in a racethey broke even
  40. (intr) boxing wrestling (of two fighters) to separate from a clinch
  41. (intr) music
    1. (of the male voice) to undergo a change in register, quality, and range at puberty
    2. (of the voice or some instruments) to undergo a change in tone, quality, etc, when changing registers
  42. (intr) phonetics (of a vowel) to turn into a diphthong, esp as a development in the language
  43. (tr) to open the breech of (certain firearms) by snapping the barrel away from the butt on its hinge
  44. (tr) to interrupt the flow of current in (an electrical circuit)Compare make 1 (def. 27)
  45. (intr) informal, mainly US to become successful; make a breakthrough
  46. break bread
    1. to eat a meal, esp with others
    2. Christianityto administer or participate in Holy Communion
  47. break camp to pack up equipment and leave a camp
  48. break ground or break new ground to do something that has not been done before
  49. to overwork or work very hard
  50. break the back of to complete the greatest or hardest part of (a task)
  51. break the bank to ruin financially or deplete the resources of a bank (as in gambling)
  52. break the ice
    1. to relieve shyness or reserve, esp between strangers
    2. to be the first of a group to do something
  53. break the mould to make a change that breaks an established habit, pattern, etc
  54. break service tennis to win a game in which an opponent is serving
  55. break wind to emit wind from the anus


  1. the act or result of breaking; fracture
  2. a crack formed as the result of breaking
  3. a brief respite or interval between two actionsa break from one’s toil
  4. a sudden rush, esp to escapeto make a break for freedom
  5. a breach in a relationshipshe has made a break from her family
  6. any sudden interruption in a continuous action
  7. British a short period between classes at schoolUS and Canadian equivalent: recess
  8. informal a fortunate opportunity, esp to prove oneself
  9. informal a piece of (good or bad) luck
  10. (esp in a stock exchange) a sudden and substantial decline in prices
  11. prosody a pause in a line of verse; caesura
  12. billiards snooker
    1. a series of successful shots during one turn
    2. the points scored in such a series
  13. billiards snooker
    1. the opening shot with the cue ball that scatters the placed balls
    2. the right to take this first shot
  14. Also called: service break, break of serve tennis the act or instance of breaking an opponent’s service
  15. one of the intervals in a sporting contest
  16. horse racing the start of a racean even break
  17. (in tenpin bowling) failure to knock down all the pins after the second attempt
    1. jazza short usually improvised solo passage
    2. an instrumental passage in a pop song
  18. a discontinuity in an electrical circuit
  19. access to a radio channel by a citizens’ band operator
  20. a variant spelling of brake 1 (def. 6)


  1. boxing wrestling a command by a referee for two opponents to separate

late 14c., past participle adjective from break (v.). Broken record in reference to someone continually repeating the same thing is from 1944, in reference to scratches on records that cause the needle to jump back and repeat.

When Britain’s Minister of State, Selwyn Lloyd[,] became bored with a speech by Russia’s Andrei Vishinsky in UN debate, he borrowed a Dizzy Gillespie bebop expression and commented: “Dig that broken record.” While most translators pondered the meaning, a man who takes English and puts it into Chinese gave this translation: “Recover the phonograph record which you have discarded.” [“Jet,” Oct. 15, 1953]


Old English brecan “to break, shatter, burst; injure, violate, destroy, curtail; break into, rush into; burst forth, spring out; subdue, tame” (class IV strong verb; past tense bræc, past participle brocen), from Proto-Germanic *brekan (cf. Old Frisian breka, Dutch breken, Old High German brehhan, German brechen, Gothic brikan), from PIE root *bhreg- “to break” (see fraction). Most modern senses were in Old English. In reference to the heart from early 13c. Meaning “to disclose” is from early 13c.

Break bread “share food” (with) is from late 14c. Break the ice is c.1600, in reference to the “coldness” of encounters of strangers. Break wind first attested 1550s. To break (something) out (1890s) probably is an image from dock work, of freeing cargo before unloading it. Ironic theatrical good luck formula break a leg has parallels in German Hals- und Beinbruch “break your neck and leg,” and Italian in bocca al lupo. Evidence of a highly superstitious craft (cf. Macbeth).


c.1300, “act of breaking,” from break (v.). Sense of “short interval between spells of work” (originally between lessons at school) is from 1861. Meaning “stroke of luck” is attested by 1911, probably an image from billiards (where the break that starts the game is attested from 1865). Meaning “stroke of mercy” is from 1914. Musical sense, “improvised passage, solo” is attested from 1920s in jazz.

In addition to the idioms beginning with break

  • break a leg
  • break away
  • break bread
  • break camp
  • break cover
  • break down
  • break even
  • break ground
  • break in
  • break into
  • break it up
  • break loose
  • break of day
  • break off
  • break one
  • break one’s ass
  • break one’s back
  • break one’s balls
  • break one’s fall
  • break one’s neck
  • break one’s word
  • break out
  • break out of
  • break ranks
  • break someone
  • break someone of something
  • break someone’s heart
  • break someone’s serve
  • break someone up
  • break the back of
  • break the bank
  • break the ice
  • break the news
  • break the record
  • break through
  • break up
  • break wind
  • break with

also see:

  • get a break
  • give someone a break
  • make a break for it
  • make or break
  • never give a sucker an even break
  • take a break
  • tough break

Also see underbroke.

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