GRAMMAR GEM: Putting the Brakes on Broke

grammar clothesline

The verb “break” is a tough one for some people. Of course, there is the obvious confusion between “brake,” meaning to stop or slow something (as with a car), and “break,” which means to split into pieces or smash. Just to confuse you a little more, there is also the noun version of “break,” which is a bodiless carriage frame used for breaking in horses. But I digress.

The biggest problem with this verb comes when we switch to the present perfect tense “broken.” Have you ever heard someone say, “The car is broke” or worse yet, “The car done broke”? When a helping verb like “is” is used in a sentence, the tense used should be “broken” as in “The car is BROKEN.” (I don’t even now how to address using the word “done” in this way except to ask you politely not to do it.)

Just as an aside, people don’t break, but they can be broke, or low on dough.

Until next time,

Posted in Blog.


    • Thanks for your question, Jodi. Unless the driver’s body has cracked, it is not acceptable to say “he broke” to indicate slowing. The proper usage would be “he braked.” Sounds weird, I know.

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