Break down

Break down

By Alena Lien, 

25 September 2018

"Break down" has 8 definitions.

In general, "break down" means "to stop working" or "to remove obstacles." This can be applied to a variety of different situations.



1.   When a machine or vehicle stops working.

  • "If the car breaks down again, I won't have enough money to get it fixed."


2.   When communication or a relationship has failed because of a problem or disagreement. 

  • "The discussion was going so well until it finally broke down."

  • "Their relationship eventually broke down because he was addicted to gambling."


"Break up" or "Break down"


A similar phrasal verb can be used, "to break up," to mean they separated.


  • "They eventually broke up because he was addicted to gambling."



3.   A sudden collapse in one's mental or physical health.

  • "His health broke down due to overworking."

It is also quite common to use this in the noun form.

  • "He had a nervous breakdown."

4.   To start crying or become very upset.

  • "After hearing the bad news, he broke down and cried."

5.   To break a door or a wall.

  • "The firefighters broke down the door to get inside the burning building."

6.   To remove a difficulty or an obstacle that is preventing something from happening.

  • "There may be some barriers that need to be broken down for a smooth transition."

7.   To divide something into separate parts.

  • "Breaking it down into smaller tasks makes it more manageable."

This can also be applied to chemical substances when it is undergoing decomposition.

  • "A chemical compound is broken down into two or more elemental parts or to simpler compounds."

8.   To explain something step by step.

  • "I'll break down the lecture for you."

This can also be applied to numerical analysis. However, these are usually specific business terms in the noun form.

  • "A cost breakdown analysis is required for each step of the project."

Related expressions