Easily Confused Words: Break vs. Brake

The Derby is this weekend, so it seems appropriate to focus on the easily confused words “breaking” and “braking.”

Breaking and braking are homophones, meaning they possess an identical sound, but not an identical spelling.

If you typed the word that sounded right, but wasn’t spelled correctly, spell-check in word processing software would not catch it. Spell-check looks for words that are missing letters, and words outside its scope of knowledge. If it’s a word and it’s spelled correctly, spell-check moves on.

Break is a verb, “breaking” is its gerund form. Typically, it means to flaw or even destroy something, as when a burglar breaks in a house, or a person drops and breaks a vase.

There are other meanings:

Shoes: When an owner breaks in a pair of new shoes, it means he or she is wearing them for a trial period so the shoes conform to the contours of his or her feet. This makes them more comfortable to generally wear and walk in.

More than other shoes, formal heels and dress shoes need to be broken in before the big day the owner wants to wear them. This is so when the big day arrives, the owner isn’t wincing in pain with each step, looking silly or uncomfortable on a formal occasion.

Training horses or other animals: To break a horse means to train and domesticate it for riding, pulling a wagon, or performing other work. Attempting to ride an untrained horse guarantees bodily injury. The horse would pull away and buck to prevent the rider from climbing on. Should the rider succeed in mounting, the horse would leap about to throw the rider off and run away. If the rider’s fall doesn’t cause injury, the horse stepping on the rider surely would.

Time use: When a person stops working on a task and relaxes their mind for a short period, he/she is “taking a break.”

Habits: When a person “breaks a habit” they have trained his/herself to stop participating in a repetitive, troublesome behavior.

Fortunate occurrences: When the odds fall in a person’s favor, he/she experienced “a lucky break.”

Brake is also a verb, and “braking” is its gerund form. Braking means bringing a vehicle to a stop. Unlike break, it doesn’t have as many meanings or catchphrases. “Put on the brakes” is an analogy phrase meaning slow things down or terminate and activity as if applying the brake pedal of a car.

In closing,  here’s an example sentence using both words correctly:

With practice, new drivers can break the habit of braking too hard in their vehicles.




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