Break, Brake

Apply the Brake Before Taking a Break

by Owen Fourie

There’s no fun in taking a break and suddenly hearing a loud noise as your unmanned car crashes through the plate glass window of the antique store at the bottom of the incline.

At first, you aren’t aware that it is your car. The awful truth dawns on you only when you see it is not where you parked it. What didn’t you do?

You didn’t apply the brake before taking a break in the coffee shop!

Ah, well, at least it is a deserted antique store—no people, no injuries—but there is still a price to pay and an expensive lesson to learn. No more breaks before applying the brakes.

The words break and brake are homophones that can be confused in your writing. Let’s get beyond this confusion and work out a way to remember the difference.

First, let’s see how to apply these words.


Break has various meanings as a noun and as a verb. Here are a few. A dictionary will show you more…

  • a temporary cessation of activity to rest or do something else: a tea break;
  • a change in fortune: a lucky break;
  • a change in prevailing conditions: a break in the weather;
  • a disruption in relationships, personal or social;
  • the fracture of a bone or cartilage;
  • an escape from prison: a jailbreak;
  • to stop doing something for a while: Let’s break for lunch;
  • to divide a whole thing into parts: Break that banana into three pieces;
  • to fracture a bone;
  • to deal harshly with someone: to break a child’s spirit 🙁
  • to disobey laws and rules: Don’t break the law;
  • to fail to keep promises;
  • to tame an animal to be submissive or useful: housebreak a puppy;
  • to fail to keep a secret: to break confidence;
  • to accidentally or intentionally interrupt the functioning or operation of something: Did you break my new e-book reader? 🙁
  • to end a habit, especially a bad one;
  • to discontinue a relationship or an association with someone: break off an engagement;
  • to announce a development of major concern: break the news


Brake also has various meanings as a noun and as a verb:

  • the part used on a vehicle to slow it down or to stop its motion completely;
  • an area that is overgrown with one kind of plant;
  • the term for various ferns;
  • the term for various mechanical devices that are used to break clods of earth; crush flax or hemp; bend and fold sheet metal; knead large quantities of dough;
  • the term used for curbing or restraining as in putting a brake (not break) on someone’s progress;
  • the past tense for break in archaic usage, not now;
  • the stopping or slowing of movement by applying a brake: Brake the car before it breaks that hedge!

How to remember the difference

Both words contain the same letters. A variety of meanings is given for each, as we have seen. For each word, you might call to mind its most common association.

For break, think of eating, such as in a lunch break.

For brake, think of how necessary it is for the safe operation of a car, as we have seen.

If you associate the word break with the word eat, note that the two vowels in each word are the same—ea—and they are in the same order. You cannot associate eat with brake.

However, notice that in brake the a comes before the e. It is telling you that before you (e for) eat, you need to (a for) apply your brake(s), and spare a thought for the safety of antique stores!





__apply brake(s) before you



Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome. Are you struggling with homophones or any other aspect of grammar and correct usage? Ask here for clarification.

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