break down

mimi2

Senior Member
vietnam vietnamese
Hi
"My car has broken down."
Does it mean my car has something wrong with its engine?
Could I use “break down” with my bike?
"My bike has broken down."
If it is possible, how could I understand “break down” with my bike?
Thanks a lot.
 
  • Dimcl

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    Yes, pretty much any vehicle can "break down", Mimi. What it means is that it won't run. You don't necessarily even know what's wrong with it (until you get it fixed) but if it won't run, it's broken down.

    A malfunction in your bicycle chain or brakes could cause your bicycle to "break down".
     

    mimi2

    Senior Member
    vietnam vietnamese
    Hi, Dimcl.
    So I could use "break down" with all the things around me:
    My watch has broken down
    My computer has broken down
    My fountain pen has broken down (Is it possible?)
    Thanks.
     

    Dimcl

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    "Broken down" is usually reserved for mechanical things, Mimi (things with gears and sprockets and other archane parts). You would say "My watch has stopped" (it's not working). You would say "My fountain pen won't work" (it's not necessarily "broken" - it could just be out of ink). If I heard "My computer has broken down", I would think that phrase acceptable because there are so many components of a computer that could "break". Some computer geeks might argue with me on this but...:)
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    "Broken down" for a machine is similar to "in a coma" for a living being. The condition is not an easy one to get out of, and the expression applies mainly to machines larger than a breadbox. I think a computer qualifies if it's in serious trouble. ;)
     

    stephent74

    Senior Member
    Chinese--Beijing
    Hi,

    I find this post very interesting. Dicml and Forero have given excellent explanations. But I'd like to stretch the topic a little.

    The verb'break' often arouses confusion in me. The window is broken, my glasses are broken -- that can be well understood.

    But'break' can also mean ' not work properly any more' -- My washing machine/watch has broken. '

    I know the meaning but this just sounds like the machine/watch was seperated into several parts.

    So when talking about machinary, when do you use 'break', and when do you use 'break down'?

    Does 'break' imply minor damage and 'break down' imply something serious?

    Thanks.
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    When you break a stick, for example, it may remain in one piece but broken, not intact, so when a machine is broken, it has, metaphorically speaking, lost integrity like the broken stick. When something breaks down, its integrity has "fallen" due to natural forces and it may take some effort to restore it.

    Another metaphor/analogy: If a limb breaks, it may still be hanging together up in the tree, perhaps reparable with duct tape or whatever, but if it breaks down, it has fallen off, and repair is going to take more effort if it is possible at all.

    "Down" for a machine means that it is completely out of service (maybe awaiting repair).

    Does this help?
     

    stephent74

    Senior Member
    Chinese--Beijing
    Thanks, Forero, it does help. It gives me a clearer idea about 'break'.

    Could you please confirm for me if the following is right:

    This morning I found my fax machine didn't work. So I called my customer and said:' I can't fax to you. My fax machine doesn't work, I think it is broken'

    A serviceman was called in. Having examined the machine, he said it had very serious problem. And then I can say: the fax machine has broken down.

    Anything wrong here?
     
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