Definition of breathe in US English:



[no object]
  • 1Take air into the lungs and then expel it, especially as a regular physiological process.

    ‘breathe in through your nose’
    ‘he breathed out heavily’
    with object ‘we are polluting the air we breathe’
    ‘she was wheezing as she breathed’
    • ‘Put your lips over the mouthpiece and breathe in deeply and quickly.’
    • ‘I breathed out deeply and tried to relax my tense muscles.’
    • ‘She holds the client steady and asks him to breathe in deeply.’
    • ‘I had to breathe in deeply, to try and gather my thoughts.’
    • ‘He did not answer, he closed his eyes and breathed out deeply, ignoring my question.’
    • ‘She breathed out deeply trying to set it up in her mind.’
    • ‘When we breathe in, the lungs take in oxygen, which our cells need to live and carry out their normal functions.’
    • ‘His eyes slid closed, and he breathed out deeply, placing his hands over hers.’
    • ‘The soft tissues in the upper airway vibrate when you breathe in and out.’
    • ‘Their function is to condition the air we breathe in and to conduct it to the alveoli.’
    • ‘When you breathe in through your windpipe, the air moves through your bronchial tubes into your air sacs.’
    • ‘If you breathe in those spores, you can get the infection.’
    • ‘Close your eyes and breathe in very deeply, concentrate on the days pleasant happenings.’
    • ‘It moves downward when we breathe in, enlarging the chest cavity and pulling air in through the nose or mouth.’
    • ‘Through the air process or through inhalation, you actually don't breathe in all that much mercury.’
    • ‘Our bodies are rhythmic - our blood flows, heart beats and lungs breathe in patterns.’
    • ‘I paused to breathe in deeply before continuing the attack.’
    • ‘Other people breathe in the bacteria and may become infected.’
    • ‘However, at certain heights the air thinned drastically, and it took a trained lung to breathe in those areas.’
    • ‘Having the child breathe in the moist air through his mouth will sometimes break a croup attack.’
    inhale and exhale, respire, draw breath
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    1. 1.1 Be alive; remain living.
      ‘at least I'm still breathing’
      • ‘Having a living, breathing, THINKING opponent really makes a world come to life.’
      • ‘He was a living, breathing, example of every comic's worst nightmare.’
      • ‘There was no stronger smell than that of a man decaying while he is yet alive and breathing.’
      • ‘The ocean's like a living, breathing, super-organism, using solar energy to drive the atmosphere with heat.’
      • ‘He was alive and breathing, but he was bleeding profusely from his side.’
      • ‘At each visit, the prison employee should verify that the inmate is alive and breathing.’
      • ‘A figure of myself, alive and breathing, stands before me with gleaming eyes.’
      • ‘It is, in short, an idea that is utterly indissoluble from our own living, breathing, everyday reality.’
      • ‘They were still alive, still living and breathing and smiling.’
      • ‘If you are breathing and awake and alive, you have some little dream to keep you going.’
      • ‘The garden was a living, breathing, creature that now seemed intent upon swallowing her up.’
      • ‘It's like treating a living, breathing, thinking, feeling human being as some sort of dynamic, organic art project.’
      • ‘But when their enemies lived nearby, ‘you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall utterly destroy them.’’
      • ‘We did travel to California, just two weeks before she stopped breathing on our living room couch.’
      • ‘Everyone cried and laughed for joy when they saw their elders alive and breathing.’
      • ‘It's passionate, and breathing, and alive, and it gets into your blood and makes your bones twist themselves up.’
      • ‘He was alive and breathing, but he was muttering as though out of his mind, and a bandage covered his eyes.’
      • ‘After all this time she was alive, living, breathing, and walking on the earth.’
      • ‘Up till this morning, you were alive, living and breathing and doing alive things.’
      • ‘All he wanted was to sit alone and perform the menial, unthinking actions necessary to remain breathing.’
      be alive, be living, live, have life, continue in existence
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    2. 1.2literary (of wind) blow softly.
      • ‘Unconsciously she shivered from a combination of the nipping wind that breathed against her skin and the gust of apprehension escaping her lips.’
      • ‘The suns' rays beat sharply on the maiden's back and a light wind breathed through the folds of her outfit.’
      • ‘As a sly wind breathed wispily beneath my collared shirt, I opened the main doors to the school and stepped inside.’
      • ‘Turning to her side, she could feel the cool breeze breathing down upon her from the ventilation shaft above.’
      • ‘I could hear the soft wind breathing through the snow, and I was so cold.’
      blow softly, whisper, murmur, sigh
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    3. 1.3with direct speech Say something with quiet intensity.
      ‘“We're together at last,” she breathed’
      whisper, murmur, purr, sigh, say
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    4. 1.4 (of an animal or plant) respire or exchange gases.
      ‘plants breathe through their roots’
      • ‘Avoid blocking the nose with food or formula so your kitten can breathe easily and not panic.’
      • ‘The palomino horse was breathing heavily with all the running, and he deserved rest.’
      • ‘Around him, the Dogs breathed like so many bellows, and the crisp snow crackled beneath his feet.’
      • ‘This helps the fish breathe and keeps the water from smelling rotten.’
      • ‘All the rain we've had means that the worms can't breathe.’
      • ‘The plant breathes in that carbon monoxide and says, ‘Oh, thank goodness.’’
      inhale and exhale, respire, draw breath
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    5. 1.5with object Give an impression of (something)
      ‘the whole room breathed an air of hygienic efficiency’
      • ‘The formidable royal castle towering above the Danube still breathes the air of this era.’
      • ‘The whole picture breathes timidity and refinement.’
      • ‘Every sentence breathes the character of its author.’
      • ‘The room seemed to breathe the air of a different era.’
      • ‘His poem breathes the air of Middle Europe in the 1820s.’
      give an impression of, suggest, indicate, be indicative of, have all the hallmarks of
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    6. 1.6 (of wine) be exposed to fresh air.
      ‘red wine needs untold time to breathe’
      • ‘Pour out this wine and let it breathe while you're cooking up some lamb chops.’
      • ‘Do you want to let the wine breathe before dinner?’
      • ‘This wine is easy to drink and got better as it breathed.’
      • ‘Decanting the wine also introduces air into the wine — letting the wine breathe.’
      • ‘Such wines should be left to breathe for a short time before serving simply to allow any bottle sickness to dissipate.’
    7. 1.7 (of material or soil) admit or emit air or moisture.
      ‘let your lawn breathe by putting air into the soil’
      • ‘Treasures here are stored in tissue paper rather than plastic because paper breathes.’
      • ‘A smoke machine breathes white mist over the empty dancefloor.’
      • ‘Thatch breathes, can use local materials, is highly insulating, and is extremely beautiful.’
      • ‘Plastic is no good for the soil because soil needs to breathe.’
      • ‘Cotton breathes better than most fabrics and offers great absorbency.’
    8. 1.8with object Allow (a horse) to rest after exertion.
      • ‘They had slowed down in front of us because of the amount the brush there was and to let the horses breathe.’
    9. 1.9breathe uponarchaic, literary Tarnish or taint.
      ‘before the queen's fair name was breathed upon’
      • ‘He had never heard of the slightest suspicion being breathed upon the name of a judge after he had been elevated to the bench.’


  • breathe (freely) again

    • Relax after being frightened or tense about something.

      ‘she wouldn't breathe freely again until she was airborne’
      • ‘It felt like hours before he could breathe again, before he could relax his jaw and focus.’
      • ‘When we finally pulled up to the club, I started breathing again.’
      • ‘I really needed to leave what was normal and everyday to me and change in order to breathe again.’
      • ‘Only when the light turned from red to green did he allow himself to breathe again.’
      • ‘They relax her and she feels like she can breathe again.’
      • ‘I tried to restrain my thoughts and truly relax to some extent where I could breathe again.’
      • ‘Shutting the door behind her, she began breathing again.’
      • ‘I did my best to help her, but at the moment I was still so stunned I could barely start breathing again.’
      • ‘When the door clicked closed behind him, I began breathing again.’
      • ‘I started breathing again after I found out he wasn't going to walk away in disgust.’
  • breathe down someone's neck

    • 1Follow closely behind someone.

      • ‘Furthermore, France may be breathing down your neck.’
      • ‘Take one last look in your rear-view mirror at that muscle-bound, angular-featured SUV bully breathing down your neck.’
      • ‘The claustrophobic camera follows him around the workshop, breathing down his neck.’
      • ‘He was always right behind me, breathing down my neck.’
      • ‘He has a lead, but Kerry is breathing down his neck.’
      1. 1.1Constantly check up on someone.
        • ‘The quicker Darlene can get her anger out, the less time you'll have to spend with her breathing down your neck.’
        • ‘If you quit breathing down my neck once in a while maybe I can actually do something right here!’
        • ‘‘I'm my own boss, there's no one breathing down my neck,’ he said.’
        • ‘You had to live with your parents breathing down your neck 24/7.’
        • ‘Stifling a laugh is terribly hard, especially if the librarian is breathing down your neck from over ten feet away.’
        • ‘She tells him, ‘It must be hard to grow up when your father is breathing down your neck all the time.’’
        • ‘I've got enough things to deal with without you breathing down my neck all the time.’
        • ‘I've got the king breathing down my neck constantly.’
        • ‘I can't sleep with you breathing down my neck.’
        • ‘I wanted to enjoy some free time without her breathing down my neck.’
        harass, pester, nag, go on at, keep on at, keep after, badger, hound, harry, harp on at, chivvy, trouble, bother, worry, torment, annoy, plague, bedevil, persecute
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  • breathe one's last

    • Die.

      • ‘The only place with possible clues to his identity is the hospital where he breathed his last.’
      • ‘Finally, in the triumph of a soul at last filled with peace, the minister breathed his last.’
      • ‘‘Nothing like breathing your last to give you new life,’ said the master of paradox Samuel Beckett.’
      • ‘And the flames of their life's work would burn in his eyes, his heart, until every last abomination had breathed their last.’
      • ‘I know I'm going to remember this till I breathe my last.’
      • ‘Through the smoke he saw the magnificent grizzly bear slumped over and breathing his last.’
      • ‘I watched as the doctor pulled the plug on the life support and he breathed his last.’
      • ‘Perhaps he was among those unfortunate souls who were prisoners or maybe he had already breathed his last.’
      • ‘He breathed his last at the hospital at around 0930 hrs on Friday morning.’
      • ‘Erik smiled weakly and breathed his last in his king's arms.’
      pass away, pass on, lose one's life, depart this life, expire, breathe one's last, draw one's last breath, meet one's end, meet one's death, lay down one's life, be no more, perish, be lost, go the way of the flesh, go the way of all flesh, go to glory, go to one's last resting place, go to meet one's maker, cross the great divide, cross the styx
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  • breathe (new) life into

    • Fill with enthusiasm and energy; reinvigorate.

      ‘spring breathes new life into a wintry woods’
      • ‘Reality shows are breathing life into the careers of some unlikely people.’
      • ‘It is certainly breathing new life into a flagging design economy.’
      • ‘His work is entirely digital with creative textures and themes breathing life into his three-dimensional models.’
      • ‘An unlearned spontaneity breathes life into the best pieces here.’
      • ‘Even under a heavy latex suit, his intensity comes through and breathes life into what could be a wooden role.’
      • ‘Some directors combined visual and aural experimentation to breathe life into what they viewed as a moribund art form.’
      • ‘They rejuvenate their age-old vocal style by breathing new life into some time-worn standards.’
      • ‘I mean, I love fleshing them out, feeling them, breathing life into them.’
      • ‘Portraying their vibrancy and the sheer emotional drama of their everyday lives, he breathes life into his characters.’
      • ‘The opera company has a reputation for breathing new life into neglected masterpieces.’
      reinvigorate, revitalize, re-energize, brace, fortify, strengthen, give new strength to, give a boost to, build up, bolster, prop up, help, renew, regenerate, restore, revive, revivify, rejuvenate, reanimate, resuscitate, refresh, reawaken, rekindle, enliven, stimulate, put some spark into, kick-start, uplift
      instil, infuse, inject, impart, imbue with, transfuse
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  • breathe a sigh of relief

    • Exhale noisily as a sign of relief (often used hyperbolically)

      ‘they breathed a great sigh of relief after the election was won’
      • ‘Now, they're probably breathing a sigh of relief at the White House.’
      • ‘I walked out of school breathing a sigh of relief.’
      • ‘And I suspect that a lot of people can be breathing a sigh of relief that those talks didn't go any farther than they did.’
      • ‘Grateful for the relief and happy at the prospect of sleep, Ely breathed a sigh of relief.’
      • ‘‘Thank you,’ I said finishing the speech and breathing a sigh of relief.’
      • ‘But when you reach home, you shut the windows, switch on the fan, and relax, breathing a sigh of relief.’
      • ‘You felt this too and your shoulders seemed to breathe a sigh of relief.’
      • ‘‘Oh, good, you're here,’ he said, breathing a sigh of relief.’
      • ‘Though reaching an agreement still looks tough, both parties are breathing a sigh of relief.’
      • ‘She told herself to breathe a sigh of relief, but somehow the relief she'd expected didn't come.’
  • not breathe a word

    • Remain silent about something; keep secret.

      • ‘You didn't breathe a word about bringing him along.’
      • ‘He should have told shareholders the bad news, but he didn't breathe a word to anybody.’
      • ‘My father had caught up with the two of them, but he didn't breathe a word for two days afterwards.’
      • ‘That boy doesn't breathe a word about you.’
      • ‘Please don't breathe a word to anybody else about this, I don't want it coming out.’


Middle English (in the sense ‘exhale, steam’): from breath.