In this study guide, we will teach you 11 common phrasal verbs with ‘break’. Learn their many meanings, explore real native examples of phrasal verbs in context, and try our exercises at the end to test your understanding. You can even save a pdf copy of this guide to use later. Ready? Let’s look at the list!
To become separate, move away or leave something A few members of the mainstream political party broke away and formed their own, more radical party.
To escape physically from someone or something The attacker grabbed her hair but she managed to break away.
2. BREAK DOWN
To stop working (usually referring to a machine or vehicle) My car broke down on the way home last night!
To become very upset or emotional She broke down when she started talking about her bad childhood.
To become weak or collapse (often due to stress) His work was so stressful that he had a breakdown and had to take 6 months off.
To cause something to fall or be destroyed I will break down this door if you don’t open up!
To explain something step by step I don’t think you understand so let me break it down for you.
To divide something into separate parts That’s come to a lot of money! Could we see a break down of the bill?
When a discussion or relationship stops being successful A lack of communication caused the relationship to break down.
To remove a difficulty that stops something from happening We hope this event will break down barriers between neighbours.
To reduce something to its component parts Water can be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen.
3. BREAK INTO
To start doing something I broke into a sweat when I started climbing the mountain.
To begin working successfully in a new business or area She only managed to break into the music industry later in life. The company broke into the European housing market last year.
To enter somewhere by force, illegally Some teenagers broke into the school and stole all the computers!
4. BREAK IN ON
To interrupt or interject a conversation I’m sorry to break in on your chat, but could I borrow your pen? His loud voice broke in on their conversation.
5. BREAK IN
To enter somewhere by force, illegally The thieves broke in through the side door that was left unlocked.
To make new shoes or clothes comfortable by wearing them Those shoes won’t be uncomfortable for long. You just need to break them in.
To tame a horse We got a trainer to break in our new horse.
There are many ‘break’ phrasal verbs to describe entering somewhere by force! For example, ‘break into’, ‘break in’, ‘break open’ and ‘break through’ can all express this but with slightly different meanings. Usually ‘break into’ or ‘break in’ are used to describe entering somewhere illegally – e.g. ‘The thievesbroke into my house at night and stole all my jewelry!’.
6. BREAK OFF
To separate something She broke off a piece of chocolate and put it in her mouth.
To end a relationship She broke off the relationship after she found out he was cheating.
To stop talking or doing something (usually abruptly) She broke off in mid sentence after realising she’d said the wrong thing.
7. BREAK OPEN
To open something by force The police broke open the door when no one opened it. We had to break open the petty cash box because the key didn’t work.
8. BREAK OUT
To escape from a place or situation They managed to break out of prison by digging a tunnel.
When something suddenly begins (often dangerous or unpleasant) War broke out after the opposition leader was shot.
When something suddenly appears on your skin She broke out in a rash after she was stung by a bee.
9. BREAK THROUGH
To force yourself through something that is holding you back They broke through the barriers to get into the music festival.
To go higher than a certain or expected level Profit this year broke through our annual sales targets.
To appear from behind something The sun broke through the clouds.
‘Break it up’ is often used informally to ask two or more people to stop fighting. For example, ‘Break it up, you two!’ is a common phrase you might hear in England if a parent’s kids are arguing over a toy.
10. BREAK UP
To divide something into smaller pieces The land was broken up into smaller plots.
Unable to hear someone when you’re talking on the phone Could you repeat that, please? It’s a bad line and you’re breaking up.
When a business or personal relationship ends It was sad when Anna and Tom broke up.
When a school term ends, school finishes and the holidays start We break up for Christmas this Friday. I can’t wait!
To stop a fight The police broke up a fight outside our local pub.
Many phrasal verbs with ‘break’ are to do with leaving or ending something. For example, ‘break away’, ‘break up’ and ‘break with’ can all mean: to move away or leave something or someone. In everyday spoken English, ‘break up’ is most commonly used to describe the ending of a romantic relationship – e.g. ‘Hannah broke up with me last night by text message!’.
11. BREAK WITH
To stop doing something that is normal or traditional She broke with convention and trained as a mechanic.
To leave a group or relationship He broke with his local church group after a disagreement with the priest.
Exercises: phrasal verbs with ‘break’
Match the phrasal verbs 1-8 with their correct meanings a-h:
To make new shoes or clothes comfortable by wearing them
To divide something into smaller pieces
To open something by force
When something suddenly begins
To become very upset or emotional
To stop doing something that is normal or traditional
To stop talking or doing something
To get higher than a certain or expected level
Choose the correct phrasal verb to complete the sentence below: (Note: Some phrasal verb may be used more than once!)
She broke down/broke open/broke apart when she heard the news.
I heard he broke down/broke out/broke off the engagement.
The burglars broke into/broke down/broke off the shopping centre.
The protestors broke up/broke through/broke in on the fence.
When I thought I might miss the train I broke into/broke out/broke open a jog.
Mark and Olivia broke down/broke up/broke with yesterday! I thought they made a nice couple, but it didn’t work out for them.
A number of priests broke down/broke away/broke open from the Catholic Church because they disagreed with the new Pope.
France and the UK couldn’t agree on the terms of the deal so the talks broke down/broke open/broke with.
Fill in the gaps with an appropriate ‘break’ phrasal verb: (Note: Some phrasal verbs may be used more than once!)
The train __________ so I’m going to be home very late tonight.
These new shoes hurt! I’ll have to __________ them _________.
The new restaurant __________ all sales expectations.
I can’t wait to ___________ for summer holidays next week!
I’m not sure why she suddenly __________ in mid sentence; perhaps John thought he was listening to the conversation.
The drought caused a famine to ___________.
He’d always wanted a career in journalism and finally he managed to ___________.
Alex Jude is the Founder & CEO of Online Teachers UK. He holds a BA hons degree in Linguistics from The University of Manchester and is a life-long English teacher. Following graduation, he spent 2002-2012 living and teaching in Russia, where he lectured in General Linguistics and Translation Studies. Alex is a fluent Russian speaker and worked with the BBC at the World Cup in 2018. In his spare time, he enjoys camping/bushcraft, playing guitar and watching rugby league.