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  • Break Down: English Phrasal Verbs

    Hello! It’s been a while since we’ve added a new English phrasal verb to the collection. This week, one of my students messaged me via Skype to ask what the meaning of break down is. I told him it could mean several things, depending on the context. He replied “Our car broke down.”

    In this case, I told him, it means that the car is not functioning. Something is wrong with it. But as you’ll see below, break down can have many other meanings, depending on the context.

    Break down can mean to dismantle something, as in:

    City workers broke down the tents after the festival.

    Can you break this desk so we can move it to the other office?

    Note that it is specifically used with things that are made to be dismantled. You don’t normally break down a building or a house.

    Break down can also be used to mean to explain or simplify something:

    Can you break down this math problem for me? I didn’t understand it.

    Yes, I’ll break it down for you, it’s very simple. 

    Here’s a break down of our business plan for next year.

    To describe a failure of a system of a relationship or system:

    The government broke down after massive protests.

    After the argument, their marriage was about to break down.

    To describe the composition of something:

    The chart shows a break down of the chemicals found in the city’s water.

    Finally, break down can be used as a noun to describe a sudden mental health problem:

    After the accident, he had a major break down.

    Ok, there it is. Let us know if you have any more phrasal verbs we can break down for you! Below you’ll find a video of Tom Petty’s song Break Down. See if you can understand which meaning of break down he’s using.