• enPR: brāk, IPA: /bɹeɪk/, [bɹʷeɪ̯k]

break (breaks, present participle breaking; past broke, past participle broken)

  1. (transitive, intransitive) To separate into two or more pieces, to fracture or crack, by a process that cannot easily be reversed for reassembly.
    If the vase falls to the floor, it might break.
    In order to tend to the accident victim, he will break the window of the car.
    1. (transitive, intransitive) To crack or fracture (bone) under a physical strain.
      His ribs broke under the weight of the rocks piled on his chest.
      She broke her neck.
      He slipped on the ice and broke his leg.
  2. (transitive) To divide (something, often money) into smaller units.
    Can you break a hundred-dollar bill for me?
    The wholesaler broke the container loads into palettes and boxes for local retailers.
  3. (transitive) To cause (a person or animal) to lose spirit or will; to crush the spirits of.
    Her child's death broke Angela.
    Interrogators have used many forms of torture to break prisoners of war.
    The interrogator hoped to break her to get her testimony against her accomplices.
    • 1611, The Holy Bible, […] (King James Version), imprinted at London: By Robert Barker, […], OCLC 964384981 ↗, Job 9:16–17 ↗:
      If I had called, and had answered me, yet would I not beleeue that he had hearkened vnto my voice: For he breaketh me with a tempest, and multiplieth my wounds without cause.
    • 1613, William Shakespeare and John Fletcher (playwright), Henry VIII, Act IV, Sc. 2:
      An old man, broken with the storms of state,
      Is come to lay his weary bones among ye;
      Give him a little earth for charity
    1. To turn an animal into a beast of burden.
      • 2002, John Fusco, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron
        Colonel: See, gentlemen? Any horse could be broken.
      You have to break an elephant before you can use it as an animal of burden.
  4. (intransitive) To be crushed, or overwhelmed with sorrow or grief.
    My heart is breaking.
  5. (transitive) To interrupt; to destroy the continuity of; to dissolve or terminate.
    I've got to break this habit I have of biting my nails.
    to break silence; to break one's sleep; to break one's journey
    I had won four games in a row, but now you've broken my streak of luck.
    • 1610–1611, William Shakespeare, “The Tempest”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies: Published According to the True Originall Copies (First Folio), London: Printed by Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, OCLC 606515358 ↗, [Act V, scene i]:
      Go, release them, Ariel; / My charms I'll break, their senses I'll restore.
  6. (transitive) To ruin financially.
    The recession broke some small businesses.
    • With arts like these rich Matho, when he speaks, / Attracts all fees, and little lawyers breaks.
  7. (transitive) To violate, to not adhere to.
    When you go to Vancouver, promise me you won't break the law.
    He broke his vows by cheating on his wife.
    break one's word
    Time travel would break the laws of physics.
    • 1671, John Milton, “Samson Agonistes, […]”, in Paradise Regain’d. A Poem. In IV Books. To which is Added, Samson Agonistes, London: Printed by J. M[acock] for John Starkey […], OCLC 228732398 ↗, lines 749–751, [{}/mode/1up page 48]:
      Out, out Hyæna; theſe are thy wonted arts, […] To break all faith, all vows, deceive, betray,
  8. (intransitive, of a fever) To pass the most dangerous part of the illness; to go down, in terms of temperature.
    Susan's fever broke at about 3 AM, and the doctor said the worst was over.
  9. (intransitive, of a spell of settled weather) To end.
    The forecast says the hot weather will break by midweek.
  10. (intransitive, of a storm) To begin; to end.
    We ran to find shelter before the storm broke.
    Around midday the storm broke, and the afternoon was calm and sunny.
  11. (intransitive, of morning, dawn, day etc.) To arrive.
    Morning has broken.
    The day broke crisp and clear.
    • 1591, William Shakespeare, “The First Part of Henry the Sixt”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies: Published According to the True Originall Copies (First Folio), London: Printed by Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, OCLC 606515358 ↗, [Act II, scene ii]:
      The day begins to break, and night is fled.
  12. (transitive, gaming slang) To render (a game) unchallenging by altering its rules or exploiting loopholes or weaknesses in them in a way that gives a player an unfair advantage.
    Changing the rules to let white have three extra queens would break chess.
    I broke the RPG by training every member of my party to cast fireballs as well as use swords.
  13. (transitive, intransitive) To stop, or to cause to stop, functioning properly or altogether.
    On the hottest day of the year the refrigerator broke.
    Did you two break the trolley by racing with it?
    1. (specifically, in programming) To cause (some feature of a program or piece of software) to stop functioning properly; to cause a regression.
      Adding 64-bit support broke backward compatibility with earlier versions.
  14. (transitive) To cause (a barrier) to no longer bar.
    break a seal
    1. (specifically) To cause the shell of (an egg) to crack, so that the inside (yolk) is accessible.
    2. (specifically) To open (a safe) without using the correct key, combination or the like.
  15. (transitive) To destroy the arrangement of; to throw into disorder; to pierce.
    The cavalry were not able to break the British squares.
  16. (intransitive, of a wave of water) To collapse into surf, after arriving in shallow water.
  17. (intransitive) To burst forth; to make its way; to come into view.
    • The clouds are still above; and, while I speak, / A second deluge o'er our head may break.
    • And from the turf a fountain broke, / And gurgled at our feet.
  18. (intransitive) To interrupt or cease one's work or occupation temporarily.
    Let's break for lunch.
  19. (transitive) To interrupt (a fall) by inserting something so that the falling object does not (immediately) hit something else beneath.
    He survived the jump out the window because the bushes below broke his fall.
  20. (transitive, ergative) To disclose or make known an item of news, etc.
    The newsman wanted to break a big story, something that would make him famous.
    I don't know how to break this to you, but your cat is not coming back.
    In the latest breaking news...
    When news of their divorce broke, ...
  21. (intransitive, of a sound) To become audible suddenly.
    • circa 1843, George Lippard, The Battle-Day of Germantown, reprinted in Washington and His Generals "1776", page 45 :
      Like the crash of thunderbolts […] , the sound of musquetry broke over the lawn, […] .
  22. (transitive) To change a steady state abruptly.
    His coughing broke the silence.
    His turning on the lights broke the enchantment.
    With the mood broken, what we had been doing seemed pretty silly.
  23. (copulative, informal) To suddenly become.
    Things began breaking bad for him when his parents died.
    The arrest was standard, when suddenly the suspect broke ugly.
  24. (intransitive) Of a male voice, to become deeper at puberty.
  25. (intransitive) Of a voice, to alter in type due to emotion or strain: in men generally to go up, in women sometimes to go down; to crack.
    His voice breaks when he gets emotional.
  26. (transitive) To surpass or do better than (a specific number), to do better than (a record), setting a new record.
    He broke the men's 100-meter record.
    I can't believe she broke 3 under par!
    The policeman broke sixty on a residential street in his hurry to catch the thief.
  27. (sports and games):
    1. (transitive, tennis) To win a game (against one's opponent) as receiver.
      He needs to break serve to win the match.
    2. (intransitive, billiards, snooker, pool) To make the first shot; to scatter the balls from the initial neat arrangement.
      Is it your or my turn to break?
    3. (transitive, backgammon) To remove one of the two men on (a point).
  28. (transitive, military, most often in the passive tense) To demote, to reduce the military rank of.
    • 1953 February 9, “[,9171,889691,00.html Books: First Rulers of Asia]”, in Time:
      And he played no favorites: when his son-in-law sacked a city he had been told to spare, Genghis broke him to private.
    • 1968, William Manchester, The Arms of Krupp, Back Bay (2003), ISBN 978-0-316-52940-2, page 215 ↗:
      One morning after the budget had failed to balance Finanzminister von Scholz picked up Der Reichsanzeiger and found he had been broken to sergeant.
    • 2006, Peter Collier, Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty, Second Edition, Artisan Books, ISBN 978-1-57965-314-9, page 42 ↗:
      Not long after this event, Clausen became involved in another disciplinary situation and was broken to private—the only one to win the Medal of Honor in Vietnam.
  29. (transitive) To end (a connection), to disconnect.
    The referee ordered the boxers to break the clinch.
    The referee broke the boxers' clinch.
    I couldn't hear a thing he was saying, so I broke the connection and called him back.
  30. (intransitive, of an emulsion) To demulsify.
  31. (intransitive, sports) To counter-attack
  32. (transitive, obsolete) To lay open, as a purpose; to disclose, divulge, or communicate.
    • 1599, William Shakespeare, “The Life of Henry the Fift”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies: Published According to the True Originall Copies (First Folio), London: Printed by Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, OCLC 606515358 ↗, [Act V, scene ii]:
      Katharine, break thy mind to me.
  33. (intransitive) To become weakened in constitution or faculties; to lose health or strength.
    • 1731, Jonathan Swift, Verses on His Own Death
      See how the dean begins to break; / Poor gentleman he droops apace.
  34. (intransitive, obsolete) To fail in business; to become bankrupt.
    • 1625, Francis Bacon, Of Riches
      He that puts all upon adventures doth oftentimes break, and come to poverty.
  35. (transitive) To destroy the strength, firmness, or consistency of.
    to break flax
  36. (transitive) To destroy the official character and standing of; to cashier; to dismiss.
    • January 11, 1711, Jonathan Swift, The Examiner No. 24
      when I see a great officer broke.
  37. (intransitive) To make an abrupt or sudden change; to change the gait.
    to break into a run or gallop
  38. (intransitive, archaic) To fall out; to terminate friendship.
    • To break upon the score of danger or expense is to be mean and narrow-spirited.