“Breach” and “Break”

By Maeve Maddox

Patrick writes:

I’m an English instructor in Germany and was recently asked about the difference between “breach” and “break”. Can you help?

Both words have to do with breaking. Both can be used as either nouns or verbs:

Can you repair the break in this line?
How did you break it?

Joan of Arc was sued for breach of promise.
The Burgundians breached the walls of Paris.

The principal parts of to break are break, broke, (have) broken.
The principal parts of to breach are breach, breached, (have) breached.

Break comes from Old English brecan, “to break, shatter, burst.”

Breach comes from the same OE verb, but by way of a noun derived from brecan. The OE noun bryce (the ce is pronounced /ch/ as in modern “breach”) meant “a breach, fracture.” Bryce was later influenced in its spelling by Old French breche, “opening” or “gap.”

A breach is a broken place, as in a wall. Used as a verb, breach has the same meaning as to break, but to breach something suggests that the break is being made despite defenses or safeguards that are in place. The noun breach is common in legal language, as in the terms “breach of contract” and “breach of the peace.”

Here are some examples the use of breach used as a verb:

FBI, Telecoms Teamed to Breach Wiretap Laws

The ‘Rachel Corrie’ ship to try to breach Gaza blockade next month

Open-records law appears to breach government secrecy

Marines use a torch to breach a door

A common use of breach as a noun is in the expression “to heal a breach,” that is, to reconcile sides in a dispute or falling out

Codeplex hopes Walli can heal breach with open source

As efforts continue to heal the breach in regional relations in the Middle East, Qatar emerges as an important player…

Healing the Breach between Feminists and Non-Feminists

In the context of a broken bone, one would speak of “healing the break.”

Sometimes writers use “breach” in place of a more suitable word, as in this question dealing with the breakage of hair:

What works best hair product to heal the breach?

Non-native English speakers are prone to use “breach” in a context calling for “break” as in these examples:

At the alpha of 2009, Nino took a breach from music to complete his accomplish account in the Hellenic Army in Rhodes,

He was apprenticed by a faculty of honour, never lied, and would rather die than breach his word.

Her career connected auspiciously with films such as Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969). After this she took a breach from acting…

In each example, “break” is the word called for by the context.

Although “break” and “breach” are similar in meaning, they cannot be used as exact synonyms.

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