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1. verb Of a machine, to malfunction or break altogether. I'm afraid the blender is breaking down. It stopped working again today. She didn't come to the party because her car broke down on the way here.
2. verb To fail or cease. Negotiations have broken down again, and I'm starting to worry that we'll never reach an agreement for a new contract.
3. verb To destroy a physical structure. In this usage, a noun or pronoun can be used between "break" and "down." I'll break this door down if you don't come out here right now!
4. verb To dismantle a societal obstacle. In this usage, a noun or pronoun can be used between "break" and "down." We owe a lot to the pioneering activists of earlier eras, who battled prejudice and broke down barriers.
5. verb To lose control of one's emotions, especially sadness or grief. My mother seemed fine this morning, but she completely broke down at the funeral and cried through the whole thing.
6. verb To methodically explain something step by step. In this usage, a noun or pronoun can be used between "break" and "down." Can you break down the healthcare proposal to me? I'm not very well informed about it.
7. verb To reduce something to its component parts. In this usage, a noun or pronoun can be used between "break" and "down." If you break down water, it's just hydrogen and oxygen molecules. We need to break down the equipment and pack the truck as quickly as possible once the gig is over.
8. verb To get someone else to do what one wants, often by coercion. In this usage, a noun or pronoun is typically used between "break" and "down." I'll threaten him if I have to—anything to break him down and get that classified information from him. The prosecutor was able to break down the defendant until he confessed.
9. verb To give in to pressure; to acquiesce. If we keep asking mom and dad to get pizza, eventually they'll break down and order it.
10. noun A state of collapse that is typically induced by some form of stress. In this usage, the phrase is typically written as one word. Once I learned the extent of my injuries, I had a complete breakdown and didn't leave my room for weeks. The coup was followed by a complete societal breakdown. The breakdown of our supply line was caused by an excessive demand.
11. noun A methodical, step-by-step explanation of something. In this usage, the phrase is typically written as one word. Can you give me a breakdown of the healthcare proposal? I'm not very well informed about it.
12. noun An itemized list. In this usage, the phrase is typically written as one word. We'd like to see a breakdown of the bill so we can see everything we've been charged for.
break it down
1. To explain something in steps. I know it can be confusing, but once I break it down for you, I think you'll start to get it.
2. Stop! Quit it! Primarily heard in Australia. You guys are making too much noise—break it down!
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.
break someone down
to force someone to give up and tell secrets or agree to do something. After threats of torture, they broke the spy down. They broke down the agent by threatening violence.
break something down(into something)
1. to reduce a compound or its structure to its components. Heat will break this down into sodium and a few gases. Will heat break down this substance into anything useful? We broke it into little pieces.
2. to reduce a large numerical total to its subparts and explain each one. She broke the total down into its components. Please break down the total into its parts again. I'll break the total down for you.
3. to discuss the details of something by examining its subparts. (See also break something down (for someone).) Let's break this problem down into its parts and deal with each one separately. Breaking down complex problems into their components is almost fun. Let's break this issue down and discuss it.
break something down
1. Lit. to tear something down; to destroy something. They used an ax to break the door down. We broke down the wall with big hammers.
2. Fig. to destroy a social or legal barrier. The court broke a number of legal barriers down this week. They had to break down many social prejudices to manage to succeed.
break something down
(for someone) Fig. to explain something to someone in simple terms or in an orderly fashion. (Alludes to breaking a complex problem into smaller segments which can be explained more easily. See also break something down (into something).) She doesn't understand. You will have to break it down for her. I can help. This is a confusing question. Let me break down the problem for you.
break down (and cry)
to surrender to demands or emotions and cry. Max finally broke down and confessed. I was afraid I would break down and cry from the sadness I felt.
Fig. a physical and mental collapse brought on by great anxiety over a period of time. After month after month of stress and strain, Sally had a nervous breakdown.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
1. Demolish, destroy, either physically or figuratively, as in The carpenters broke down the partition between the bedrooms, or The governor's speeches broke down the teachers' opposition to school reform. [Late 1300s]
2. Separate into constituent parts, analyze. For example, I insisted that they break down the bill into the separate charges for parts and labor, or The chemist was trying to break down the compound's molecules. [Mid-1800s]
3. Stop functioning, cease to be effective or operable, as in The old dishwasher finally broke down. [Mid-1800s]
4. Become distressed or upset; also, have a physical or mental collapse, as in The funeral was too much for her and she broke down in tears, or After seeing all his work come to nothing, he broke down and had to be treated by a psychiatrist . [Late 1800s]
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
1. To cause something to collapse, especially by hitting it: The firefighters broke down the door of the burning house. The bulldozer pushed at the old wall and broke it down.
2. To collapse, especially as a result of force or pressure; give way: The door finally broke down after I kept hitting it with a club.
3. To cause someone to stop resisting, especially by force or pressure: The police will break you down and make you talk.
4. To stop resisting; accede: My friends kept pleading with me to go to the beach, so I finally broke down and went along with them.
5. To destroy or remove something, especially something viewed as a problem: This political party hopes to break down the barriers between social classes. Let's identify the obstacles and break them down.
6. To stop functioning: The elevator broke down, so please use the stairs.
7. To be a passenger in a vehicle that stops functioning: We're late because we broke down just outside the city.
8. To fail despite effort; come to a stop: The negotiations between the warring nations broke down, and the fighting continued.
9. To suffer an emotional or mental collapse: The stress of my new job was so high that I eventually broke down and couldn't go to work for days.
10. To separate something into parts; take something apart: When the carnival was over, we broke down all the tents. The workers broke down the equipment and put it into storage.
11. To examine or explain something by looking at its parts; analyze something: Break down your story into its main themes and write each part separately. This problem looks very difficult, but if we break it down, it becomes easy to solve.
12. To be divisible into smaller parts: The population of the city breaks down into three main groups: the poor, the rich, and the middle class.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs. Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.