break down vs break

ladybugEnglishFan

Senior Member
Polish
Am I right that we can't say "The car broke" but we have to say "the car broke down" (it won't start), but I can say "My nephew broke the car" but can't "my nephew broke the car down"?
 
  • JamesM

    Senior Member
    Well, you could, but it would mean something else. :) To break something down as an action (using it as a transitive verb) is to reduce it to its component parts. If your nephew disassembled the car you could say he broke the car down. I don't think that is what you wanted to communicate, but I'm not sure.

    What do you want to say?

    Also, to follow up on the other point, I think it would be rare to say "He broke the car". It's the way a child would put it, in my experience. Objects break but we don't generally refer to engines as "breaking".

    Can you describe the situation? Did the nephew drive the car and now it won't start? Are you trying to communicate that he deliberately caused that?
     
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    ladybugEnglishFan

    Senior Member
    Polish
    "Can you describe the situation? Did the nephew drive the car and now it won't start? Are you trying to communicate that he deliberately caused that?"
    Yes, for emample.
    But my main point is to understand the difference between break and break down, if "break" is transitive.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    "Break" can be transitive or intransitive. It is not usually applied to very large objects or machinery.

    "He broke the vase."
    "He stepped on his watch and broke it."
    "He broke his glasses when he sat on them."

    "He broke the car." :cross:
    "He broke the car door by slamming it too hard." :tick:
    "The missile broke the building." :cross:
    "The earthquake broke the mountain." :cross:

    Are you asking if "break down" can be used in an active voice? "He broke the vase down", for example?
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    There are a couple of useful definitions of "[to] break down" in the WRF English dictionary, ladybugEnglishFan:
    break down
    • 1 cease to function or continue; fail.

    • 2 lose control of one's emotions when in distress.
    Here are some more examples from the Collins COBUILD Phrasal Verbs Dictionary:

    1. When an arrangement, plan or discussion breaks down, it fails because of a problem or disagreement.
    2. When a vehicle breaks down, it stops working.
    3. To break down an idea, a statement or information means to separate it into smaller parts in order to understand it or to deal with it more easily.
    4. When a substance breaks down or when something breaks it down, it changes as a result of a chemical or biological process.
    5. If you break down a problem or obstacle, you weaken or remove it so that it no longer prevents you from doing something.
    6. If someone breaks down, they start crying uncontrollably.
    7. If someone breaks down, they become very depressed and ill because they cannot cope with their problems.
    8. To break down something such a a door or wall means to hit it so hard that it breaks and falls to the ground.
     

    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    And, if we haven't confused the matter sufficiently, we have the bluegrass classic Foggy Mountain Breakdown performed by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs.

    The answer, lbef, as I'm sure you see by now is that the expressions "break" or "break down" are highly dependent on context.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    What does "breakdown" mean in "Foggy Mountain Breakdown", sdg? (I assume, in any event, that it's a noun rather than a verb....)

    The bottom line, ladybugEnglishFan, is that phrasal verbs usually have a meaning which is different from that of the 'parent verb'. Sometimes the difference is quite small; sometimes it's huge:).
     

    ladybugEnglishFan

    Senior Member
    Polish
    One more question. Can I use break not followed by an object, for example : "The car door broke" (for example if someone is slamming them again and again and) or do I have to say "The car door is broken"?
     

    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    What does "breakdown" mean in "Foggy Mountain Breakdown", sdg? (I assume, in any event, that it's a noun rather than a verb....)
    (Since I'm not musical, I can't explain the following. All I know is that I like bluegrass music, and especially Flatt and Scruggs. :eek:)
    From Wikipedia:
    In DJ parlance, a break is where all elements of a song (e.g., pads, basslines, vocals), except for percussion, disappear for a time. This is distinguished from a breakdown, a section where the composition is deliberately deconstructed to minimal elements (usually the percussion or rhythm section with the vocal re-introduced over the minimal backing), all other parts having been gradually or suddenly cut out.[1] The distinction between breaks and breakdowns may be described as, "Breaks are for the drummer; breakdowns are for hands in the air".[1]
     

    zaffy

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Are these correct? The camera doesn't work any more, ceased to function.

    -I've broken your camera, I'm sorry.
    -The camera has broken so I can't lend you it.
    -The camera has broken down so I can't lend you it.
     

    DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    Are these correct? The camera doesn't work any more, ceased to function.

    -I've broken your camera, I'm sorry.
    -The camera has broken so I can't lend you it.
    -The camera has broken down so I can't lend you it.
    I wouldn't personally use (3).

    I tend to associate "broken down" with a vehicle or a piece of machinery. So while a bus or a train or a washing machine could have broken down, it sounds a bit odd to me applied to a camera.
     

    zaffy

    Senior Member
    Polish
    So gadgets and devices like computers, telephones, air-conditioners, ovens, vacuum cleaners 'break', whereas some machinery like engines, cars, dishwashers, lawn mowers 'break down'?
     

    london calling

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Generally speaking computers, telephones, air-conditioners, ovens, vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, engines and lawn mowers break if you drop them on the floor, jump on them, take a hammer to them or throw them off a cliff.:D Otherwise, they stop working/functioning.

    Usually it's vehicles that break down: cars, buses, lorries, motorbikes.
     
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    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    Generally, it's used for machines that move and transport. If they stop doing the job they were designed to do, they are said to have broken down. A car could look entirely normal but if the engine does not start the car has broken down. When things break, that generally means parts have separated from each other. It's obvious that something is wrong because the different parts can be seen - like with a broken plate or glass.

    The reason a car might break down is because a part inside the car broke. For instance, a metal part might have snapped in half. If you replace the broken part the car is no longer broken down (non-functional). It's working again.

    Mechanical/electronic things that don't move we generally describe as not working or not coming on.

    Semi-crossposted and repeating much of what London Calling said.
     

    zaffy

    Senior Member
    Polish
    This is really all confusing. So how do I distinguish between such three situations.

    situation 1: Someone is trying to set something in my wrist watch, presses and turns the buttons numerous times and suddenly the watch is not working. What do I say? 'You've broken my watch!' ?
    situation 2: Someone steps accidentally on my watch and the front glass breaks in half. What do I say? 'You've broken my watch!' ?
    situation 3: Someone drops my favourite vase and it brakes into pieces. What do I say? 'You've broken my vase!' ?

    All 3 the same? 2 and 3 are similar and in Polish we would use a different verb than in 1
     

    zaffy

    Senior Member
    Polish
    1. So 'break' covers both 'not functioning' and 'falling into pieces' and we have two different verbs for these two in Polish.
     

    zaffy

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Generally, it's used for machines that move and transport.

    Usually it's vehicles that break down: cars, buses, lorries, motorbikes.

    These are all dictionary examples for learners od English and, sadly enough, none of them is a vehicle. It is really hard not to be confused. So you wouldn't use 'break down' in them? Or things like washing machines should be treated as things that move, which kentix mentioned


    1. The printing machines are always breaking down.

    2. If the central heating breaks down again, I will refuse to pay the repair bill.

    3. Our dishwasher broke down just a month after the guarantee had expired.

    4. Oh no - has your washing machine broken down again?
     
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    Erebos12345

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    Hi

    These are all dictionary examples for learners od English and, sadly enough, none of them vehicles. It is really hard not to be confused. So you wouldn't use 'break down' in them? Or things like washing machines should be treated as things that move, which kentix mentioned

    1. The printing machines are always breaking down.

    2. If the central heating breaks down again, I will refuse to pay the repair bill.

    3. Our dishwasher broke down just a month after the guarantee had expired.

    4. Oh no - has your washing machine broken down again?
    Well, they did qualify their statements with generally and usually. I'd say that, generally, larger machines can break down, machines that obviously contain mechanical parts. And when one of those mechanical parts breaks/stops working, that would be what causes the entire thing to break down. (I'm kind of pulling this out of thin air right now...not sure if it'll prove to be an accurate generalization.)
     
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