‘Breakdown’ or ‘Break Down’: What’s the Difference?

By Kelsey Weeks, updated on July 28, 2023

Are you breaking objects down, or did someone have a ‘breakdown’? What is the difference between ‘break down’ and ‘breakdown’? Does it matter if we include that space? The short answer is, yes, it does matter.

Briefly, here’s why:

  • ‘Breakdown’ is used as a noun.
  • ‘Break down’ is used as a verb phrase. 

When speaking, ‘break down’ and ‘breakdown’ can be misinterpreted because it can be hard to decipher if someone pauses between the two. When writing, knowing when to use the right one is important. Continue reading, and the differences and examples of each will be explained and elaborated on.   

What is the Difference Between ‘Breakdown’ and ‘Break Down?’ 

  • A "breakdown" is a noun but can also be called a substantive noun. It is slightly different from other nouns because people think of a noun as a person, place, or thing, and a ‘breakdown’ is more of an internal essence or substance than a property or item. It cannot be grasped, but it is still a noun. 
  • “Break down" differs from " breakdown " because it is a phrase, not a singular word. It is a verb phrase. A verb phrase is a verb and another part of speech.

In the case of ‘break down,’ it is a verb and an adverb. Both words are stressed equally with a space or pause between the two words.  

Definition of ‘Breakdown’: What Does it Mean? 

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, ‘breakdown’ is a noun. 

As a noun, it means:

  • The action or result of breaking down, such as
  • A failure to function
  • Failure to progress or have an effect
  • A complete loss of physical, mental, or emotional vitality: a physical, mental, or nervous collapse
  • The process of decomposing

Synonyms of ‘Breakdown’

  • Nervous breakdown
  • Anxiety
  • Crack-up
  • Disturbance
  • Tailspin
  • Agitation
  • Excitability
  • Meltdown
  • Apprehension
  • Nervousness
  • Perturbation
  • Freak-out
  • Frazzle
  • Disquiet
  • Alar
  • Alarum
  • Basket case
  • Discomposure

Antonyms of ‘Breakdown’ 

  • Composure
  • Tranquility
  • Coolness
  • Tranquility
  • Serenity
  • Calmness
  • Placidity

Definition of ‘Break Down’: What Does it Mean? 

 ‘Break Down’ is a verb phrase.

  • ‘Break’ is a verb
  • ‘Down’ is an adverb 

As a verb, it means:

  • To cause to fall or collapse by breaking or shattering
  • To make ineffective
  • To divide into parts or categories
  • To separate something into simpler substances.
  • To take apart, especially for storage or shipment and for later reassembling
  • To stop functioning because of breakage or weak
  • To become inoperative or ineffective
  • To fail in strength or vitality
  • To succumb to mental or emotional stress
  • To lose one’s resolve
  • For horses to severely injure the supporting ligament or bones of the fetlock joint
  • To be susceptible to or undergo analysis or subdivision
  • To undergo decomposition.

Synonyms of ‘Break Down’ 

  • Classify
  • Rank
  • Distinguish
  • Group
  • Separate
  • Sort
  • Place
  • Distribute
  • Decompose
  • Decay
  • Rot
  • Analyze
  • Examine
  • Assess
  • Diagnose
  • Crash
  • Fail
  • Fall apart
  • Meltdown
  • Lose it
  • Choke
  • Take down
  • Knockdown
  • Disconnect
  • Dismantle
  • Strike
  • Detach
  • Dismount
  • Disassemble
  • Shatter
  • Smash

Antonyms of ‘Break Down’ 

  • Construct
  • Build
  • Assemble
  • Startup
  • Integrate
  • Consolidate
  • Aggregate
  • Synthesize
  • Grow
  • Restore
  • Develop
  • Lump

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce ‘Breakdown’ and ‘Break Down’

The pronunciation of these two phrases is remarkably similar. The phonetic spelling is the same for both, but the pause and the emphasis change. ‘Breakdown’ emphasizes the first part of the word with no pause in between. ‘Break down’ emphasizes both words equally, with a pause between the two.

  • The phonetic spelling of ‘breakdown’ and ‘break down’ is:

          Brayk down

When to use ‘Breakdown’ vs. ‘Break Down’

Here are examples and explanations of when to use ‘breakdown’ and ‘break down.’

  • Use ‘breakdown’ when discussing what happened or the result.

For this example, you could say:

The government needs to prevent a ‘breakdown’ of the system by approving a budget they agree on.

  • Use ‘breakdown’ in a conversation, sharing that there has not been progress or disintegration.

For example, one can say:

 They were working toward agreeing, but the negotiations had a ‘breakdown.’

  • You can use ‘break down’ when discussing something that has been divided.

As an example, someone may inform someone else:

We had to ‘break down’ the machine to see where inside of it there was a problem. 

  • You can also use ‘break down’ when something becomes inoperative.

You may tell someone:

Slowly over time, the computer started to ‘break down,’ so they had to look at buying a new one.

Sample Sentences Using ‘Breakdown’ 

Review these sample sentences to learn to use ‘breakdown’ when speaking and writing, keeping in mind that this is to be used as a noun.

  • We have been meeting with her over and over for the past few weeks to prevent a breakdown of our partnership. 
  • Their family has been supporting them throughout their breakdown. It started with their health, but then it progressed and changed their mental health as well.
  • When looking at a breakdown of the data, it is important to recognize that there has been growth. 
  • The company looked at the budget breakdown on a chart broken into colors to see how to spend its funds better and increase employees’ wages. 
  • Some people do not understand the importance of recycling, but it allows the objects the time to return to nature. People who want to learn about the breakdown of these overtime items can tour a facility.
  • The investigation has a breakdown of which people were present and which people were not. The people present are the only ones that they will need to interview for their case.

Sample Sentences Using ‘Break Down’ 

Review these sample sentences to learn how to use ‘break down,’ keeping in mind this is a verb phrase.

  • She took on a lot of stress throughout the years and finally broke down and said enough is enough. It was an emotional revelation where she got the support she needed.
  • We are going to break down the statistics to see how we compare to last year at this time. We believe we are doing better and want to highlight those areas.
  •  Kirsten is going to break down the molecules to ensure that her predicted formula will work. She must extract the molecules in an extremely strict environment to prevent interference.
  • Over time the cardboard will break down, and that will help the environmental impact of the store. More people may be willing to buy from us with our impact on the environment decreasing.

Closing Words on ‘Breakdown’ vs. ‘Break Down’

Closure on ‘breakdown’ vs. ‘break down’:

  • Both have the same phonetic spelling, but what is emphasized and the pause (space) is different.
  • ‘Breakdown’ is used as a noun in a sentence.
  • ‘Break Down’ is used as a verb phrase in a sentence.

The biggest help to which word you should use in the sentence is when the sentence needs a noun or verb at this point in the sentence. If it needs a noun, use ‘breakdown. If it needs a verb, use the phrase ‘break down.’

All posts on our website explain how to use tricky words correctly. Check back frequently to reduce the errors in your writing. You can find additional resources on English words in the confusing words section.

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Written By:
Kelsey Weeks
Kelsey Weeks is currently a school counselor at a high school and a previous English teacher. She loves helping others with literacy, learning more, and exploring nature. She has an undergrad in English with an emphasis on secondary education and an M.A. in Applied Psychology from NYU.

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