Definition of break down in US English:

break down

phrasal verb

  • 1(of a machine or motor vehicle) suddenly cease to function.

    ‘his van broke down’
    • ‘That way, when the car breaks down, the washing machine floods the kitchen floor or the telly goes ping you don't need to make a drama out of a crisis.’
    • ‘Who is responsible, for instance, when a machine breaks down?’
    • ‘Your new washing machine breaks down, and when you try to get someone to look at it, you're told you didn't fill in the guarantee form in time - even though you know you did.’
    • ‘No-one knows when the car will break down, the washing machine go into hyper-spin, or worse still, you lose your job, your child becomes sick or your partner leaves you.’
    • ‘Leaving for class the next day, my car suddenly broke down.’
    • ‘Suddenly the bus breaks down in the middle of nowhere, which is officially the worst place to have a breakdown.’
    • ‘The washing machine broke down - again - over Christmas.’
    • ‘If your machine breaks down, this could prove costly.’
    • ‘If a particular washing machine broke down after seven months of normal use, it would seem probable that there was something wrong with it at the time of sale.’
    • ‘If the machine breaks down, you could be left miles from help.’
    stop working, cease to function, cease to work, go wrong, seize up, give out, develop a fault
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    1. 1.1 (of a person) have the vehicle they are driving cease to function.
      ‘she broke down on the highway’
      • ‘If you break down in the desert, stay with your vehicle and never try to do anything in the heat of the day.’
      • ‘Unlike the Paris to Dakar rally, where every car has a support vehicle, if we break down in the Sahara we'll be hitching our way out.’
      • ‘If you do break down or have to abandon your vehicle, try to push it off the carriageway.’
      • ‘However, the star of the show almost failed to make the battle after breaking down on the motorway.’
    2. 1.2 (of a relationship, agreement, or process) cease to continue; collapse.
      ‘pay negotiations with management broke down’
      • ‘Doctors have gone on strike after an agreement with management broke down.’
      • ‘After wage negotiations with hospital management broke down last week, the National Medical Workers Union last Thursday voted in favor of a strike.’
      • ‘Our relationship was breaking down, and I think she knew I was going to leave her.’
      • ‘But when their relationship broke down he moved back to his North East home and lost touch.’
      • ‘While a relationship is breaking down, people can be unspeakably cruel to each other.’
      • ‘Relations with his own father suddenly and unexpectedly broke down.’
      • ‘John is urging owners to pay more consideration to their animals' needs when their marriage or relationship breaks down.’
      • ‘The talks broke down on Friday without agreement.’
      • ‘Within weeks, however, the agreement began to break down and before long violence had reached an unparalleled intensity.’
      • ‘Your marriage breaks down (or you suddenly get hitched) and your life changes completely…’
      fail, collapse, come to nothing, founder, fall through, come to grief, be unsuccessful, not succeed, disintegrate
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    3. 1.3 Lose control of one's emotions when in a state of distress.
      ‘the old woman broke down in tears’
      ‘if she had tried to utter a word, she would have broken down’
      • ‘In December 1998 he broke down in tears after losing to a little - known rival from Hong Kong.’
      • ‘She didn't seem to be the type to suddenly break down.’
      • ‘Suddenly, she broke down into sobs, her hand leaving the knife handle and tears falling down her face like waterfalls.’
      • ‘He tried to keep calm, not wanting to lose control and break down in front of the man who was challenging him.’
      • ‘Emotion swept over her as she broke down in tears.’
      • ‘When my co-worker got off the phone, she just broke down in tears.’
      • ‘She wondered if his whereabouts for the past 24 hours had something to do with his mood and that's what caused him to break down so suddenly tonight.’
      • ‘Suddenly I found myself breaking down, my body heaving with sobs, and I felt Jordan's arms close around me and pull me close.’
      • ‘The witness broke down in tears during her testimony.’
      • ‘She was afraid she would lose herself and completely break down.’
      burst into tears, dissolve into tears
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    4. 1.4 (of a person's health or emotional control) fail or collapse.
      ‘his health broke down under the strain of overwork’
      • ‘His health broke down in the Far East and he returned home to recuperate.’
      • ‘His health, precarious since the war, broke down in 1921.’
      • ‘‘I'm scared of being old and dying without dignity and my body breaking down,’ he continues.’
      • ‘He was appointed to this chair in 1883 but his health, which had always been poor, broke down completely in February 1886.’
      • ‘In the spring of 1901 his health broke down.’
      • ‘Golf was another pleasure until his health broke down.’
      • ‘I nursed my wife for three-and-a-half years until my health broke down.’
      • ‘In the summer of 1927, the Indian prince's health broke down and he went to Switzerland to recuperate.’
      • ‘For the next ten years, until his health broke down, he worked with great zeal to establish a public system of elementary education, supervised by a national body of inspectors.’
      • ‘In 1883 Archibald's health broke down and he travelled to London, hoping perhaps to make his fortune on Fleet Street.’
  • 2Undergo chemical decomposition.

    ‘waste products that break down into low-level toxic materials’
    • ‘During digestion, carbohydrates break down into sugar and enter the bloodstream in the form of glucose, a simple sugar.’
    • ‘These plastics eventually break down into harmless products, but only after up to several hundred years.’
    • ‘Rather, large molecules tend to break down into smaller ones.’
    • ‘The use of aspartame is limited at high or prolonged temperatures because it breaks down and loses its sweetness.’
    • ‘In the chemical reaction, compounds break down to form various gases.’
    • ‘In other cases, a drug may break down into other, harmful substances.’
    • ‘You can throw your cuttings as well as dried leaves in your compost bin, which will break down into a nutrient-rich compost for next season.’
    • ‘Ozone also tends to be unstable and break down into dioxygen and nascent oxygen and to react readily with other substances.’
    • ‘Grass cuttings, if not mixed with other stuff, will break down into a layer of thick green sludge.’
    • ‘When you eat carbs, they break down into glucose, which is stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver.’