The word break is fairly commonly used in English, so you have surely seen it in books, heard it in movies, or learned it in school. By itself, it usually means to make a crack in something as is used as a verb.
There are many phrases and sentences where it means just that. However, there are also many phrases in which break means something entirely different or is used as a noun! Here are some of those more common phrases.
Break as a Verb
1. Break a habit
To break a habit means to stop doing something that you often do in your routine. For example, if you normally reach for your phone right when you wake up, that is a habit.
To break the habit means to stop reaching for your phone right when you wake up, and instead meditating or washing up first.
- Breaking a habit is really difficult, but my business coach helped me get right into content creating when I wake up instead of answering emails.
- To establish a good habit is hard, but to break a bad habit may be even harder.
- If you want to break your habit of chewing on your fingernails when you are nervous, try to dip them in lemon juice in the morning or paint them with various colors of nail polish.
2. Break a bone, break your arm
If you accidentally injure yourself by cracking or fracturing a bone, you break your bone. To break your arm, leg, pelvis, wrist, or other body part means to break the bone in that body part.
For children, this is a very common thing to have happen. If you have never broken a bone, some people will be very surprised to hear it.
- My son fell out of a tree yesterday morning, so we took him to the hospital because we thought he might have broken his wrist.
- The doctor that you see if you break your bones is an orthopedic surgeon.
- If you take care of yourself, use a cast, and use your crutches, you can recover quickly even if you break your leg.
3. Break a leg!
This is an idiom that you say to performers such as actors, dancers, or singers. It means good luck. If you think this idiom sounds weird, it is! It seems like you are wishing that something bad will happen to the actress.
However, this idiom comes from the fact that historically, actors are superstitious. They believe that something bad will happen if you tell them good luck directly, but wishing back luck to someone will lead to something good happening.
- Break a leg, Arnold! Your performance is going to be great tonight!
- I told my wife to break a leg on her first day of teaching her class, but she just rolled her eyes.
- If you don’t tell your actor friends to break a leg, especially on the night of their first performances, they may not perform well!
4. Break a promise
Here, the word break is not used in a literal sense. Instead, the phrase means to not follow through on a promise that you have made. If you promise someone that everything will be okay, but it turns out not to be, you have broken your promise.
- Doctors are told to never say, “Everything will be okay,” to their patients because they cannot ensure that everything is okay, and they don’t want to break their promises.
- I got so used to my friends breaking their promises to hang out with me that I was surprised when they invited me out to dinner last night.
- Breaking a promise to a client will probably make them quit doing business with you.
5. Break a record
In this phrase, break is again used in a figurative sense. To break a record means to perform better than the previous record, especially in fields like sports, music, and other things where actions can be measured objectively.
- I did not try to break the record for the most hiccups in an hour, but it just happened!
- She ran so fast that she broke her sister’s record by 30 seconds!
- Breaking a world record at the Olympics is something that so many athletes strive to do.
6. Break the ice
When people are meeting each other for the first time, someone has to break the ice, or help spark interaction and discussions in a group.
Leaders of a group often prepare activities or questions, known as icebreakers, to loosen up any tension and help people get to know each other.
Sometimes offices can plan retreats full of icebreakers to create more friendships between workers and improve their comfort with each other.
- I wasn’t sure how the two groups of athletes would work together so I prepared a bunch of silly questions to break the ice, but it turns out everyone started laughing and getting to know each other on their own!
- Sometimes it only takes one person to say something funny to break the ice in a tense group.
- If it were so easy to break the ice, anyone could do it.
7. Break someone’s heart
While this is usually used in the context of a romantic relationship, you can break anyone’s heart, or cause someone great grief and sadness. If you make someone just a little bit sad, you can use break your heart jokingly.
However, if you use the phrase to describe something more serious, it can mean that you will need some time to recover from the broken heart.
- I told him I loved him, and then he broke my heart by saying that he had actually been trying to break up with me during that conversation.
- When I chose to become an entrepreneur instead of going to graduate school, my grandma told me that I was breaking her heart.
- “Do you really like her design more than mine? Gosh, you’re breaking my heart,” Jasmine said jokingly.
8. Break the rules, break the law
If you have a rebellious streak in you and want to be known as a bad boy or bad girl, you can break the rules or break the law.
These mean that you do something that you should not, either because there are rules or a law that prohibits it. You can become a rule breaker or a law breaker.
- I thought that the rules were ridiculous, so I decided to protest them by breaking the most important rule.
- If you ever break the law, don’t talk to me again.
- Some people can’t help but break the rules; they just have a rebellious streak in them.
9. Break the news to someone
If you know something new and share it with other people, you break the news to them.
This phrase is usually used when you have bad news, however, because you will likely break someone’s heart when you tell them. Most people who break the news have to do it reluctantly, if they choose to do it at all.
- I have so much respect for doctors because they have to break bad news to patients and their family members so often.
- Ellen wanted to keep the news quiet for as long as possible, but Tom broke the news of their breakup anyway.
- Juan didn’t know how to break the news of the car accident to Jennifer over the phone, so he texted her instead.
10. Break even
If you start a business and invest money in it, you always try to break even as fast as possible, or earn enough so that you can cover the money that you spent.
While this phrase is most often used with money, it can also be used when you talk about other things that you can borrow and give to others, such as favors (helping other people).
- Emily still remembers the day that her business broke even – she talks about what a relief that was any chance that she gets!
- Max picked his sister up from the airport, so the two of them have officially broken even on their favors for each other.
- He tried to play too many pranks on me, so I have a whole list of pranks so we can break even.
11. Break the silence
You can break the literal silence by speaking or making other noises when there is a period of silence, or break the figurative silence but making a statement about something when you have refused to talk about it before.
Both types of silence are broken equally often, but breaking the silence in a metaphorical sense is usually only used for celebrities, politicians, and other famous people.
Celebrities can break the silence when they talk about their personal lives and relationships; politicians break the silence when they talk about a scandal that happens.
- Honestly, I have no idea why he has broken the silence on his relationship. The media has already caught him with his new girlfriend!
- When there is a new scandal, it is better to break the silence right away and apologize for it than have everyone speculate and guess why it happened.
- I like to wait until someone else breaks the silence before I start talking so I don’t seem like I’m only interested in attention!
12. Break ground
When a company is ready to start preparing land for a new construction project (to build a new house or building), they break ground and sometimes have a small ceremony to celebrate. This phrase is not to be confused with breaking new ground.
- I can’t wait until the contract comes through so we can finally break ground!
- Are you coming to the break ground ceremony tomorrow morning?
13. Break new ground
While this phrase is similar to break ground, the meaning is very different. Breaking new ground is metaphorical, when you make progress in an area that has never been done before.
This is often used to describe new scientific discoveries or technological developments. Something that breaks new ground is groundbreaking.
- This new research technique will help scientists in so many fields break new ground!
- I think Dr. Matheson thought that his work was breaking new ground, but his findings were published by another professor two years ago.
14. Break a code
This phrase can be confusing because the word code has several meanings. You can crack a code (which means to figure out a pattern or a secret message) or break a code – which means to deviate from a set of rules.
This kind of code can be official or not, like a code for an organization or a code between friends.
- One of the best jokes in the TV show How I Met Your Mother is about how Ted, the main character, always breaks the Bro Code.
- We were really excited to have you join the organization, but since you broke our code, we have to ask you to leave.
- The only rule we have here is that you do not break the code.
15. Break your fall
When you fall, the best thing you can do is break your fall, or prevent yourself from hitting the ground too hard. Breaking your fall is especially important for older people, who are more likely to break their bones from a hard fall.
- After his accident, my grandpa started using a walker that could break his fall in case something happened when he was walking.
- Thank you so much for breaking my fall! I could have really been hurt.
16. Break the mold
A creator breaks the mold when they create something very unique and special, unlike anything that you have ever seen before.
Most things are made with molds, or standard shapes that help make plastics and metals and things like that. To break the mold means to go beyond those molds and make something that does not fit those molds.
- God broke the mold when he made you because you’re so amazing.
- I want you to take chances and break the mold when you can because nonconformists are the ones who change history!
17. Break from tradition
When you take a chance, and do something different from customs and behaviors that most people do, you break from tradition.
People who break from tradition often do it because they are unhappy with the ways things have been done in the past or because they want to gain more attention for themselves.
- Roger broke from tradition by choosing to move abroad after college rather than finding a job locally.
- If you come from a rural community, your parents probably want you to break from tradition and move to the city for more work opportunities.
18. Break free
Similar to times when you break the mold or break from tradition, breaking free means to disregard previous constraints or limits on you, whether they are physical or emotional. When you break free of something, you are usually overcoming obstacles or barriers.
- Troy was finally able to break free from his money problems after he paid off all his debt.
- After years of planning, the felon broke free from jail with a little help from his friends.
- Break free from the mental barriers that are preventing you from achieving your goals!
19. Break down
Breaking down means to completely stop working if you refer to a thing, or to lose control of your emotions if you refer to a person.
The two meanings have the same idea, as people who break down in tears or under stress often have a hard time concentrating on other tasks.
- I had the worst luck yesterday, when my car engine broke down in the middle of the highway and I had to deal with my boss breaking down under stress after the big deal went bad.
- It’s okay to break down crying every once in a while, because crying can make you release hormones that improve your mood afterwards.
20. Break loose
When you have been confined, either physically or emotionally, it is always a relief to break loose and disregard those restraints. To break loose means to be free.
- I have finally broken loose from the responsibilities that I have every day.
- Tom feels bad for Kathy because she cannot break loose from the pressures of her parents.
21. Break up
Most of the time, break up refers to the split of a romantically-involved couple. If they decide that they no longer want to be together, they break up. It can also refer to an event, especially a noisy event or a fight, that is split up.
Break up can be used as a noun, when a couple breaks up, or as a verb when you break up the fight before it escalates. In all cases, the break ups can be nasty or friendly.
- My ex-boyfriend and I broke up because we were offer jobs in different cities, but we got back together years later when we ended up in the same place again.
- The principal was called in to break up the fight that was started between the freshmen and the sophomores.
Break as a Noun
22. Take a break
Taking a break here means to rest from whatever you are doing. When you take a break, you almost always intend to go back and keep doing what you paused. If you decide to stop altogether, that is an unintended consequence of the break.
- I was tired from practicing our dance so I sat on the sidelines to take a break.
- Steven felt unmotivated at college, so he decided to take a break for a semester to work and return to school after that.
- If you try to work the entire day without taking a break, you will work yourself to death.
23. Lucky break, big break
The other way you can use break as a noun is in the phrase lucky break or big break. This phrase is usually used when talking about your career.
If the break is lucky or big, it refers to the moment when you made it and went from someone who is trying to make it (often, but not always as an actor or someone else in the entertainment industry) to someone who has made it.
Even though it should mark a specific event, it sometimes refers to a period of time in which you are trying many different things and seeing which one “sticks”, or actually produces results for you. Breaks are usually caught.
- The extremely famous movie director Steven Spielberg caught a big break when one of his original films that he made in college was seen by a vice president of a movie-making company and offered him a job.
- Some people say successful people are the ones that got lucky, but most people who catch a lucky break are putting in the hard work needed to succeed already.