How To Improve English Speaking Break Phrasal Verbs Ep 237

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How To Improve English Speaking

Today we will work on English phrasal verbs, specifically the verb break. It’s quite a fun one because it has a lot of different meanings. So we cover things like celebrities break-up, cars break-down, thieves break in, meteors break up on entry to our atmosphere and so on.

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Most Unusual Words:


Most common 2 word phrases:

to break29
break in11
break up11
English Speaking11
you might10

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Transcript: How To Improve English Speaking Break Phrasal Verbs

Hi there and welcome to this podcast from Adept English. If you’re looking to improve your English language learning – and finding that your traditional language course, which you do at college is not really helping you to become fluent, then you’ve found Adept English and you’re in the right place! We provide podcasts and courses, for people who wish to actually learn to speak the language, rather than learn it in an academic or a traditional way. So welcome to you especially if you’ve just found us, but welcome to our regular listeners as well, of course! Go and have a look at our website at and you’ll find much, much more there to help you with your English language learning.

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Improve Spoken English with Knowledge of Phrasal Verbs

So today, shall we work some more on How to Improve English Speaking? Of course, the whole of the project, the whole of Adept English has the goal of helping you to improve your English speaking. So there are lots of different elements to How to Improve English Speaking. Perhaps today, let’s just focus on one of them. There are quite a few differences between formal English that you will find say, in a newspaper article, in an English examination or in an English novel – that’s a book or a story that you read for pleasure. This written English is quite different sometimes from spoken English and one of the things which makes it different, is that in spoken English, we use a lot more ‘phrasal verbs’. So ‘phrasal verbs’ are verbs which consist of more than one word. Usually it’s a verb plus a preposition. So prepositions are words like on, at, to, down, along, by, for. And in spoken English, we add these prepositions to verbs, usually to very common verbs – and it changes the meaning slightly. And we use far more of these in spoken English than we do in written English. So they’re less formal, there’s usually a formal equivalent word, or a word with the same meaning that’s formal. But in spoken English, we tend to use phrasal verbs instead.


So How to Improve English Speaking with phrasal verbs? We’ve talked about this or I’ve talked about this in a previous podcast in November 2018, where we looked at the verb ‘to take’ and a number of its phrasal verb meanings. How about today we work with the verb ‘to break’ as a phrasal verb? We’re not going to cover all the possibilities, but let’s make a start.

Phrasal Verbs Made From ‘To Break’

So you probably know the verb ‘to break’ - it’s certainly in the most common 500 words. If you ‘break an egg’, it means that the inside of the egg comes out of the shell – you’ve broken the eggshell in effect. If you ‘break your leg’, it means that you’ve done damage to the bone inside your leg and it will take several weeks to repair, several weeks to get better. A ‘break’ can also mean a pause … that, in what’s going on. If you say ‘I’m going for a weekend break’ - it means you’re having a little holiday, you’re taking a break from what you normally do, and going away for the weekend. So hopefully you know the verb ‘to break’. Let’s look at How to Improve English Speaking by focusing on some phrasal verbs that use ‘to break’.

So today we’ll cover:-

  • to break down
  • to break in
  • to break something in
  • to break up

So bear in mind they usually have more than one meaning.

To Break Down

So ‘to break down’ first of all. Well, one meaning of this could be if you’re in your car. And you’re driving along and you gradually realise that there is a problem with the car. The car is not functioning as it should, it’s not working. And perhaps it comes to a stop. And there you are at the side of the road, phoning up, waiting for help, waiting for someone to come and get you. We would say then that you have ‘broken down’ - or that your car has ‘broken down’. We’d also talk about a ‘breakdown truck’ - meaning one of those vehicles which can tow a car. So the vehicle that’s likely to come and rescue you will be a breakdown truck. And ‘to tow’, that’s T-O-W means to pull another vehicle behind. So to break down means to have a problem with your car, to have a broken car, if you like. So that’s the first meaning.

The verb ‘to break down’ can also mean to get upset. So that if someone has bad news or is under pressure, then if a person ‘breaks down’, it means that they get upset. They might become tearful. They might have held their emotions in for a time, suddenly the emotions are all on the surface, are obvious for anyone else to see. In a bigger, more serious sense, we might also say that someone ‘had a breakdown’. In this sort of context, having a breakdown means a bigger emotional crisis. It means the person can’t cope, can’t manage their feelings, can’t carry on. It might be that someone even has to go into hospital for a time, because of their psychological state, and we could refer to that as them ‘having a breakdown’. When we use it as a verb however ‘to break down’, it usually means the more immediate….someone becoming upset in the moment – and then five minutes later, they’re better, say. It’s usually the noun, ‘a breakdown’, if it’s the more serious, psychological breakdown we’re talking about.


A photograph of a man holding a baby you cannot tell the gender of the baby. Used to help explain English grammar she, he and they.

©️ Adept English 2019

If you use the verb ‘to break down’ with an object, so you might say ‘to break something down’, it’s usually in a teaching context or in a context where something is being explained. So this is at an abstract level. We’re not really ‘breaking an object’ here. So for example, if I’m doing some pronunciation sentences for you – like I do sometimes at the end of the podcast, I might say ‘Mm - that’s a long sentence, let’s break that one down a bit’. And that means I’m going to give you the sentence in bits and pieces, in sections to make it easier. So that’s ‘breaking something down’. If somebody is explaining something and it’s complicated, they might say ‘Ooh. Let’s break that down a bit’. You’ll know when this is the meaning because ‘to break down’ in this sense - it always has an object, you ‘break something down’. So you might be explaining how to do an install on your computer – and you might say ‘Let’s break that down into the different steps’.

To Break In

So How to Improve English Speaking as the next phrasal verb, we have is ‘to break in’. Well, one of the meanings here would be if someone entered your house or your building illegally, so without having a key, without your permission, we would say that they ‘had broken in, they’d broken in to your flat or into your house’. So thieves, burglars, robbers coming into your house and taking your things, stealing your computer or your jewellery maybe. Then that is called a ‘break-in’ and we would say ‘Someone broke into my house’. If you manage to lock yourself out of your own house – that means that you shut the door and you haven’t got the key, you might find you have to break in to your own house! So a break-in, notice when it’s a noun, it’s got a hyphen in the middle – B-R-E-A-K-hyphen-I-N.

OK? So the next meaning - we also use the phrasal verb ‘to break in’ when we have something like a new pair of shoes. So if you’ve got new shoes, you might spend a few days ‘breaking them in’, so that they’re comfortable. It’s usually used, this verb, with something like shoes or boots, or trainers, where the fit is important. You might hear someone say ‘Ugh, I’ve got new running shoes – I need to break them in, I need to use them a few times, before I do a long race in them.’ Or it could be a pair of… I dunno...roller skates! I need to break them in, I need to get used to them.

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A third meaning of ‘to break in’, we also use this phrasal verb to mean the same as ‘to interrupt’. So if someone else is talking and you have something you’d like to say, you might say ‘Excuse me a minute, if I could just break in there?’ So it means exactly the same as the verb ‘to interrupt’. So interrupt is I-N-T-E-R-R-U-P-T, so that’s breaking in when someone else is talking. We might use interrupt for other things though – so you might say ‘I interrupted my studies to go on holiday’, whereas ‘to break in’...mmmm... usually that’s when you want to speak when someone else is talking.

To Break Up

And the last phrasal verb for today in How to Improve English Speaking, is ‘to break up’. So this has two meanings. Let me think of an example. If something has been lost at sea – so a ship or a plane or something like that – and it’s under the water, under the waves, then we might say ‘Oh, it will break up’ meaning the waves, the water will break it into smaller pieces. A ship may also ‘break up’ on rocks, if it hits dangerous shoreline. So it’s where pieces of something are in a liquid, and they break up into smaller pieces. If you were making pancakes say, and you were stirring your pancake mix, you might expect any lumps, in the pancake mix, will break up. Bits of flour will ‘break up’, if you stir them enough.


The more usual use of the phrasal verb ‘to break up’ though, means of a relationship. So if a couple are not getting along, they’re no longer happy together and they decide to end their relationship, we would say ‘they’ve broken up’. ‘Oh, Mr and Mrs Smith, their marriage has broken up, they’re getting a divorce’. You might also use it of a friendship, a friendship broke up, they’re no longer friends.

OK, so those are the phrasal verbs which use ‘to break’. They’re not the only ones, but it’s a good start.


So more broadly How to Improve English Speaking is, of course by listening to Adept English podcasts and if you want to improve English Speaking even more, then buy one of our courses. Course One, Activate Your Listening gives you over 5 hours listening time. It includes tutorials called ‘vocabulary recordings’ and English conversation between two speakers. It’s great practice for you!

Anyway, enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.

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