Nearby words

  1. breadsticks,
  2. breadstuff,
  3. breadth,
  4. breadthways,
  5. breadwinner,
  6. break a leg,
  7. break and entry,
  8. break away,
  9. break bread,
  10. break camp


Origin of break

before 900; Middle English breken, Old English brecan; cognate with Dutch breken, German brechen, Gothic brikan; akin to Latin frangere; see fragile

Related forms
Can be confusedbrake break

Synonym study

1. Break, crush, shatter, smash mean to reduce to parts, violently or by force. Break means to divide by means of a blow, a collision, a pull, or the like: to break a chair, a leg, a strap. To crush is to subject to (usually heavy or violent) pressure so as to press out of shape or reduce to shapelessness or to small particles: to crush a beetle. To shatter is to break in such a way as to cause the pieces to fly in many directions: to shatter a light globe. To smash is to break noisily and suddenly into many pieces: to smash a glass. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

British Dictionary definitions for break up

break up

verb (adverb)

to separate or cause to separate
to put an end to (a relationship) or (of a relationship) to come to an end
to dissolve or cause to dissolve; disrupt or be disruptedthe meeting broke up at noon
(intr) British (of a school) to close for the holidays
(intr) (of a person making a telephone call) to be inaudible at times, owing to variations in the signalyou're breaking up
informal to lose or cause to lose control of the emotionsthe news of his death broke her up
slang to be or cause to be overcome with laughter

noun break-up

a separation or disintegration
  1. in the Canadian north, the breaking up of the ice on a body of water that marks the beginning of spring
  2. this season


verb breaks, breaking, broke or broken

to separate or become separated into two or more piecesthis cup is broken
to damage or become damaged so as to be inoperativemy radio is broken
to crack or become cracked without separating
to burst or cut the surface of (skin, etc)
to discontinue or become discontinuedthey broke for lunch; to break a journey
to disperse or become dispersedthe clouds broke
(tr) to fail to observe (an agreement, promise, law, etc)to break one's word
(foll by with) to discontinue an association (with)
to disclose or be disclosedhe broke the news gently
(tr) to fracture (a bone) in (a limb, etc)
(tr) to divide (something complete or perfect)to break a set of books
to bring or come to an endthe summer weather broke at last
(tr) to bring to an end by or as if by forceto break a strike
(when intr , often foll by out) to escape (from)he broke jail; he broke out of jail
to weaken or overwhelm or be weakened or overwhelmed, as in spirit
(tr) to cut through or penetratea cry broke the silence
(tr) to improve on or surpassto break a record
(tr often foll by in) to accustom (a horse) to the bridle and saddle, to being ridden, etc
(tr often foll by of) to cause (a person) to give up (a habit)this cure will break you of smoking
(tr) to weaken the impact or force ofthis net will break his fall
(tr) to decipherto break a code
(tr) to lose the order ofto break ranks
(tr) to reduce to poverty or the state of bankruptcy
(when intr , foll by into) to obtain, give, or receive smaller units in exchange for; changeto break a pound note
(tr) mainly military to demote to a lower rank
(intr ; often foll by from or out of) to proceed suddenly
(intr) to come into beinglight broke over the mountains
(intr ; foll by into or out into)
  1. to burst into song, laughter, etc
  2. to change to a faster pace
(tr) to open with explosivesto break a safe
(intr) (of waves)
  1. (often foll by against)to strike violently
  2. to collapse into foam or surf
(intr) (esp of fish) to appear above the surface of the water
(intr) (of the amniotic fluid surrounding an unborn baby) to be released when the amniotic sac ruptures in the first stage of labourher waters have broken
(intr) informal, mainly US to turn out in a specified mannerthings are breaking well
(intr) (of prices, esp stock exchange quotations) to fall sharply
(intr) to make a sudden effort, as in running, horse racing, etc
(intr) cricket (of a ball) to change direction on bouncing
(tr) cricket (of a player) to knock down at least one bail from (a wicket)
(intr) billiards snooker to scatter the balls at the start of a game
(intr) horse racing to commence running in a racethey broke even
(intr) boxing wrestling (of two fighters) to separate from a clinch
(intr) music
  1. (of the male voice) to undergo a change in register, quality, and range at puberty
  2. (of the voice or some instruments) to undergo a change in tone, quality, etc, when changing registers
(intr) phonetics (of a vowel) to turn into a diphthong, esp as a development in the language
(tr) to open the breech of (certain firearms) by snapping the barrel away from the butt on its hinge
(tr) to interrupt the flow of current in (an electrical circuit)Compare make 1 (def. 27)
(intr) informal, mainly US to become successful; make a breakthrough
break bread
  1. to eat a meal, esp with others
  2. Christianityto administer or participate in Holy Communion
break camp to pack up equipment and leave a camp
break ground or break new ground to do something that has not been done before
to overwork or work very hard
break the back of to complete the greatest or hardest part of (a task)
break the bank to ruin financially or deplete the resources of a bank (as in gambling)
break the ice
  1. to relieve shyness or reserve, esp between strangers
  2. to be the first of a group to do something
break the mould to make a change that breaks an established habit, pattern, etc
break service tennis to win a game in which an opponent is serving
break wind to emit wind from the anus


the act or result of breaking; fracture
a crack formed as the result of breaking
a brief respite or interval between two actionsa break from one's toil
a sudden rush, esp to escapeto make a break for freedom
a breach in a relationshipshe has made a break from her family
any sudden interruption in a continuous action
British a short period between classes at schoolUS and Canadian equivalent: recess
informal a fortunate opportunity, esp to prove oneself
informal a piece of (good or bad) luck
(esp in a stock exchange) a sudden and substantial decline in prices
prosody a pause in a line of verse; caesura
billiards snooker
  1. a series of successful shots during one turn
  2. the points scored in such a series
billiards snooker
  1. the opening shot with the cue ball that scatters the placed balls
  2. the right to take this first shot
Also called: service break, break of serve tennis the act or instance of breaking an opponent's service
one of the intervals in a sporting contest
horse racing the start of a racean even break
(in tenpin bowling) failure to knock down all the pins after the second attempt
  1. jazza short usually improvised solo passage
  2. an instrumental passage in a pop song
a discontinuity in an electrical circuit
access to a radio channel by a citizens' band operator
a variant spelling of brake 1 (def. 6)


boxing wrestling a command by a referee for two opponents to separate

Word Origin for break

Old English brecan; related to Old Frisian breka, Gothic brikan, Old High German brehhan, Latin frangere Sanskrit bhráj bursting forth

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for break up
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with break up

break up


Divide into many pieces; disintegrate. For example, Now break up the head of garlic into separate cloves. [Mid-1700s]


Interrupt the continuity of something, as in A short walk will break up the long morning.


Also, break it up. Scatter, disperse, as in The crowd broke up as soon as they reached the streets. [Late 1400s] This phrase is also used as an imperative, as in “Break it up!” shouted the police officer. [c. 1930]


Bring or come to an end, as in His gambling was bound to break up their marriage.


Also, break someone up. Burst into or cause one to burst into an expression of feeling, such as laughter or tears. For example, His jokes always break me up, or That touching eulogy broke us all up, or I looked at her and just broke up. The precise meaning depends on the context. This sense grew out of a usage from the early 1800s that meant “upset” or “disturb.” [Colloquial; early 1800s]


In addition to the idioms beginning with break

  • break a leg
  • break away
  • break bread
  • break camp
  • break cover
  • break down
  • break even
  • break ground
  • break in
  • break into
  • break it up
  • break loose
  • break of day
  • break off
  • break one
  • break one's ass
  • break one's back
  • break one's balls
  • break one's fall
  • break one's neck
  • break one's word
  • break out
  • break out of
  • break ranks
  • break someone
  • break someone of something
  • break someone's heart
  • break someone's serve
  • break someone up
  • break the back of
  • break the bank
  • break the ice
  • break the news
  • break the record
  • break through
  • break up
  • break wind
  • break with

also see:

  • get a break
  • give someone a break
  • make a break for it
  • make or break
  • never give a sucker an even break
  • take a break
  • tough break

Also see underbroke.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.