Language: Old English
Origin: brecan


1 verb
break1 S1 W1 past tense broke past participle broken

separate into pieces

a) [transitive] if you break something, you make it separate into two or more pieces, for example by hitting it, dropping it, or bending it:
I had to break a window to get into the house.
Don't lean on the fence like that - you'll break it!
break something in half/two
He broke the biscuit in half and handed one piece to me.
Break the chocolate into small pieces and melt it over a gentle heat.
b) [intransitive] if something breaks, it separates into two or more pieces:
He kept pulling at the rope until it broke.
The frames are made of plastic and they tend to break quite easily.


[transitive] to damage a bone in your body by making it crack or split:
She fell downstairs and broke her hip.


a) [transitive] to damage a machine so that it does not work properly:
Don't mess about with my camera - you'll break it.
Someone's broken the TV.
b) [intransitive] if a machine breaks, it stops working properly:
The washing machine's broken again.


[transitive] to disobey a rule or law:
They're breaking the law by employing such young children.
If you break the rules you will be punished.
The cameras catch motorists who break the speed limit.


[transitive] to not do something that you have promised to do or signed an agreement to do:
I never break my promises.
You betrayed me. You broke your word.
break an agreement/contract
He was worried that he might be breaking his contract.


[intransitive] to stop for a short time in order to have a rest or eat something
break for
Shall we break for lunch now?

end something

[transitive] to stop something from continuing:
We need to break the cycle of poverty and crime in the inner cities.
We took turns driving, in order to try and break the monotony.
New talks will begin on Monday in an effort to break the deadlock.

defeat somebody

[transitive] to make someone feel that they have been completely defeated and they cannot continue working or living:
Losing his business nearly broke him.
I won't give in. I won't be broken by him.

destroy an organization

[transitive] to damage an organization so badly that it no longer has any power:
The government succeeded in breaking the unions.


[intransitive] when the day or the dawn breaks, the sky gets light:
Dawn was breaking by the time we arrived home.


[intransitive] if a storm breaks, it begins:
We were keen to get back to the hotel before the storm broke.


[intransitive] if the weather breaks, it suddenly changes and becomes cold or wet:
The following day the weather broke and we had ten days of solid rain.


[intransitive] when waves break, they fall onto the land at the edge of the water:
We sat and watched the waves breaking on the shore

somebody's voice

a) when a boy's voice breaks, it becomes lower and starts to sound like a man's voice:
He was fifteen, and his voice was just beginning to break.
b) if your voice breaks, it does not sound smooth because you are feeling strong emotions:
Her voice broke as she told us what had happened.


a) [intransitive] if news about an important event breaks, it becomes known:
News of his resignation broke yesterday.
The minister has refused to give any interviews since the scandal broke.
b) [transitive] if you break unpleasant news to someone, you tell it to them:
I didn't know how I was going to break the news to my mother.
The doctor finally broke it to me that there was no cure.

break a habit

to stop doing something that you do regularly, especially something that you should not do:
a new drug which helps smokers to break their habit

break a record

to do something even faster or even better than the previous best time, amount etc:
an attempt to break the 10,000 metres world record

break a journey

British English to stop somewhere for a short time during a long journey:
We decided to break our journey in Oxford.

break somebody's heart

to make someone very unhappy by ending a relationship with them or doing something that upsets them a lot:
He broke my heart when he left me.
It'll break your father's heart if you tell him you're giving up college.

break a strike

BEL to force workers to end a strike:
The government has threatened to bring in the army to break the 10 month old strike.

break a link/tie/connection

to end a relationship with a person or organization:
The US has now broken all diplomatic links with the regime.
Sometimes it is necessary to break family ties in order to protect the child.

break the skin

to cut the skin on your body:
Their teeth are sharp enough to break the skin.

break the back of something

to finish the main or worst part of something:
I think we've broken the back of the job now.

break the bank

to cost a lot of money, or more money than you have:
A new hard drive doesn't have to break the bank.

break somebody's concentration

to interrupt someone and stop them from being able to continue thinking or talking about something:
The slightest sound would break his concentration.

break the silence

to end a period of silence by talking or making a noise:
The silence was broken by a loud scream.

break somebody's spirit

to destroy someone's feeling of determination:
They could not break her spirit.
The spirit of our soldiers will never be broken.

break somebody's power

to take away someone's position of power or control:
At last the power of the church was finally broken.

break the ice

informal to make people feel more friendly and willing to talk to each other:
Sam's arrival broke the ice and people began to talk and laugh.

break a code

to succeed in understanding something that is written in a secret way:
Scientists worked day and night to break the code.

break wind

to allow gas to escape from your bottom, making a noise and an unpleasant smell

break (somebody's) serve

DST to win a game in tennis when your opponent is starting the game by hitting the ball first:
Hewitt broke serve twice in the second set.
smash with a lot of force
into many pieces
into two pieces
into two pieces, with a sudden loud noise
break into a lot of small pieces
break into a lot of small pieces and be destroyed
if a bone fractures or you fracture it, it breaks slightly so that a small line appears on the surface

break away

phrasal verb
1 to leave a group or political party and form another group, usually because of a disagreement:
More than 30 Labour MPs broke away to form a new left-wing party.
break away from
They broke away from the national union and set up their own local organization.
2 to leave your home, family, or job and become independent
break away from
I felt the need to break away from home.
3 to move away from someone who is holding you:
She started crying and tried to break away.
break away from
She broke away from him and ran to the door.
4 to move away from other people in a race or game:
Radcliffe broke away 200 metres before the finish.
5 to become loose and no longer attached to something:
Part of the plane's wing had broken away.

break down

phrasal verb
1 if a car or machine breaks down, it stops working:
The car broke down just north of Paris.
The printing machines are always breaking down.
2 to fail or stop working in a successful way:
Negotiations broke down after only two days.
I left London when my marriage broke down.

break something ↔ down

if you break down a door, you hit it so hard that it breaks and falls to the ground:
Police had to break down the door to get into the flat.

break something ↔ down

to change or remove something that prevents people from working together and having a successful relationship with each other:
Getting young people together will help to break down the barriers between them.
It takes a long time to break down prejudices.
5 if a substance breaks down or something breaks it down, it changes as a result of a chemical process
break something ↔ down
Food is broken down in the stomach.
Bacteria are added to help break down the sewage.
6 to be unable to stop yourself crying, especially in public:
He broke down and cried.
She broke down in tears when she heard the news.

break something ↔ down

to separate something into smaller parts so that it is easier to do or understand:
He showed us the whole dance, then broke it down so that we could learn it more easily.
The question can be broken down into two parts.

break for something

phrasal verb
to suddenly run towards something, especially in order to escape from someone:
He broke for the door, but the guards got there before he did.

break in

phrasal verb
1 to enter a building by using force, in order to steal something:
Thieves broke in and stole £10,000 worth of computer equipment.
2 to interrupt someone when they are speaking
break in on
I didn't want to break in on his telephone conversation.
break in with
Dad would occasionally break in with an amusing comment.

break something ↔ in

to make new shoes or boots less stiff and more comfortable by wearing them:
I went for a walk to break in my new boots.

break somebody in

to help a person get used to a certain way of behaving or working:
She's quite new to the job so we're still breaking her in.

break something ↔ in

to teach a young horse to carry people on its back:
We break the horses in when they're about two years old.

break into something

phrasal verb
1 to enter a building or car by using force, in order to steal something:
Someone broke into my car and stole the radio.
Her house was broken into last week.
2 to become involved in a new job or business activity:
She made an attempt to break into journalism.
It's a profession that is very hard to break into.
Many British firms have failed in their attempts to break into the American market.
3 to start to spend money that you did not want to spend:
I don't want to break into my savings unless I have to.

break into a run/trot etc

to suddenly start running:
He broke into a run as he came round the corner.

break into a smile/a song/applause etc

to suddenly start smiling, singing etc:
Her face broke into a smile.
The audience broke into loud applause.

break somebody of something

phrasal verb
to make someone stop having a bad habit:
Try to break yourself of the habit of eating between meals.

break off

phrasal verb
1 to suddenly stop talking:
She started to speak, then broke off while a waitress served us coffee.
He broke off in mid-sentence to shake hands with the new arrivals.
break something ↔ off
I broke off the conversation and answered the phone.

break something ↔ off

to end a relationship:
She broke off their engagement only a few weeks before they were due to be married.
The US has broken off diplomatic relations with the regime.
3 if something breaks off, or if you break it off, it comes loose and is no longer attached to something else:
One of the car's wing mirrors had broken off.
break something ↔ off
He broke off a piece of bread.

break out

phrasal verb
1 if something unpleasant such as a fire, fight, or war breaks out, it starts to happen:
I was still living in London when the war broke out.
Does everyone know what to do if a fire breaks out?
Fighting broke out between demonstrators and the police.
2 to escape from a prison
break out of
Three men have broken out of a top security jail.
3 to change the way you live because you feel bored
break out of
She felt the need to break out of her daily routine.

break out in spots/a rash/a sweat etc

if you break out in spots etc, they appear on your skin:
I broke out in a painful rash.
My whole body broke out in a sweat.

break through

phrasal verb

break through (something)

to manage to get past or through something that is in your way:
Several demonstrators broke through the barriers despite warnings from the police.
After hours of fierce fighting, rebels broke through and captured the capital.

break through (something)

if the sun breaks through, you can see it when you could not see it before because there were clouds:
The sun broke through at around lunch time.
The sun soon broke through the mist.
3 to manage to do something successfully when there is a difficulty that is preventing you:
He's a very talented young actor who's just ready to break through.
break through into
It is possible that at this election some of the minority parties might succeed in breaking through into parliament.

break up

phrasal verb
1 if something breaks up, or if you break it up, it breaks into a lot of small pieces:
It seems that the plane just broke up in the air.
break something ↔ up
Use a fork to break up the soil.

break something ↔ up

to separate something into several smaller parts:
There are plans to break the company up into several smaller independent companies.
You need a few trees and bushes to break up the lawn.

break something ↔ up

to stop a fight:
Three policemen were needed to break up the fight.

break something ↔ up

to make people leave a place where they have been meeting or protesting:
Government soldiers broke up the demonstration.
Police moved in to break up the meeting.
5 if a marriage, group of people, or relationship breaks up, the people in it separate and do not live or work together any more:
He lost his job and his marriage broke up.
The couple broke up last year.
Many bands break up because of personality clashes between the musicians.
break up with
Has Sam really broken up with Lucy?
6 if a meeting or party breaks up, people start to leave:
The party didn't break up until after midnight.
The meeting broke up without any agreement.
7 British English when a school breaks up, it closes for a holiday:
School breaks up next week.
break up for
When do you break up for Easter?

break somebody up

American English informal to make someone laugh by saying or doing something funny:
He breaks me up!

break with somebody/something

phrasal verb
1 to leave a group of people or an organization, especially because you have had a disagreement with them:
She had broken with her family years ago.
They broke with the Communist Party and set up a new party.

break with tradition/the past

to stop following old customs and do something in a completely different way:
Now is the time to break with the past.
His work broke with tradition in many ways.

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