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


1.   (intransitive) When a machine or vehicle stops working.
  • “If the car breaks down again, I won’t have enough money to get it fixed.”
  • “The printer broke down so I had to go to the library.”
2.   (intransitive) 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.”
* Similar phrasal verbs: “Break down” or “Break up”

“Break up” means to end a relationship.

  • “I’m going to break up with my boyfriend tonight.”
  • “They eventually broke up because of his gambling addiction.”
3.   (intransitive) 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.”
  • “It’s important to look after your mental health so you don’t suffer from a breakdown.”
4.   (intransitive) To start crying or become very upset.
  • “After hearing the bad news, he broke down and cried.”
  • “She began to slowly break down as the news sank in.”
5.   (separable) To break an obstacle or an obstacle that is preventing something from happening.
  • “We’ll have to break this wall down to create an open plan.”
  • “There may be some barriers that need to be broken down for a smooth transition.”
6.   (separable) To divide something into separate parts.
  • Breaking it down into smaller tasks makes it more manageable.”
  • “Can you break down the total into monthly expenses?”
a.  To explain something step by step.
  • “I’ll break down the lecture for you.”
  • “I’m afraid you’ll have to break the plan down again for the new employee.”
b. To analyse information.

Although these are usually specific business terms in the noun form.

  • “In the next section, I’ll break down the data we’ve gathered for our research.”
  • “A cost breakdown analysis is required for each step of the project.”
c. Used for chemical substances when it is undergoing decomposition.
  • “A chemical compound is broken down into two or more elemental parts or to simpler compounds.”

Original post: 8 February 2021