Broke, Broken

If a Door Is Broke, Should You Fix It or Feel Sorry for It?

by Owen Fourie

The notice at the side door of the supermarket plainly said,

“Door is broke. Please use main entrance.”

How sad. I had used that door for many years and now it was broke. I blamed myself for not sparing any thought for the wealth and wellbeing of the side door.

I stood there wondering if I should buy a hat and place it at that entrance in the hope that people would give generously to rescue the door from its poverty-stricken state.

I added hat to my shopping list, but then I had another thought. What if this was a problem with somebody’s grammar?

Perhaps they meant that the door was broken and that it needed to be fixed before it could be used again.

Of course! That was it. I deleted hat from my list.

It wasn’t likely that the door was broke, so I didn’t have to feel sorry for it. It was broken, and it needed to be fixed.

It wasn’t long after this incident that I saw a similar mistake on the Internet in this statement:

“Here’s the basic process broke down in diagram form.”

You can say that your car broke down, but if you refer to a step-by-step breakdown of a process, you should say,

“Here’s the basic process broken down in diagram form.”

This is a problem of incorrect usage, and it needs to be fixed. When should you use broke? When should you use broken?

Broke as a verb

We broke the door.

Broke is the past tense of break.

It is also an archaic past participle of break, so we may conclude that there was a time when it would have been perfectly acceptable to say the door is broke, but not now.

Broke as an adjective

After spending all their money on repairs, they were broke.

This is regarded as informal usage, so don’t use broke in this way in any formal writing. It would be better to write,

After spending all their money on repairs, they had no more funds.

Or, more seriously,

After spending all their money on repairs, they were bankrupt.

Broken as a verb form, a past participle

We have broken the door.

(have + past participle = present perfect tense)

Broken is the standard past participle of break.

Broken as a verb form, a past participle used adjectivally

The door is broken.

Broken as an adjective

They saw the broken door.

Although the side door at the supermarket has been repaired, there’s still a problem with one of its hinges. Every time I open that door, it squeaks, and it sounds like “I’m broke,” or is it just my weird imagination?


Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome. Keep your eyes and ears open for grammar errors in notices posted in public places and in announcements that you see or hear in the media. Mention them here.

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