Breath and Breathe

Commonly Confused Words

breath and breathe

If you can remember that breath is a noun and that breathe is a verb, you shouldn't have any trouble telling these words apart.

Definitions

The noun breath (rhymes with "Beth") refers to the air that you take into your lungs and send out from your lungs during respiration. Figuratively, breath can mean a suggestion or small indication.

The verb breathe (rhymes with "seethe") means to take air into the lungs and send it out of your lungs--that is, to inhale and exhale.

Breathe can also mean to say or utter (something), to blow softly (on something), or to take a brief rest before continuing. 

Examples

  • "Stella gagged in the hall. 'Ack! Close your mouth, Calvin. I can smell your breath all the way out here.'"
    (Graham Salisbury, Calvin Coconut: Zoo Breath. Random House, 2010)
     
  • "All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath."
    (F. Scott Fitzgerald, quoted by Andrew Turnbull in The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1963)
     
  • "Sometimes you get a glimpse of a semicolon coming, a few lines farther on, and it is like climbing a steep path through woods and seeing a wooden bench just at a bend in the road ahead, a place where you can expect to sit for a moment, catching your breath."
    (Lewis Thomas, "Notes on Punctuation." The Medusa and the Snail, 1979)
     
  • "Not a single window was lit, and there were no torches in the street. Not a breath of wind either."
    (Arturo Perez-Reverte, Pirates of the Levant. G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2006/2010) 
     
  • Finding it hard to breathe inside the exam room, I stepped out for a breath of fresh air.
     
  • "[I]n the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's futures. And we are all mortal.”
    (President John F. Kennedy, "A Strategy for Peace," June 10, 1963)

     
  • “Neil, if you promise not to breathe a word about this to anyone, will you allow me to tell you a story?” 
    (Pam Rhodes, Casting the Net. Lion Fiction, 2014)
     
  • "Begin by becoming aware of the in-breath and out-breath. Then breathe in a heavy breath and be aware that you're breathing in a heavy breath; breathe out a heavy breath and be aware that you're breathing out a heavy breath. Do this a few times."
    (Bo Lozoff,  It's a Meaningful Life: It Just Takes Practice. Penguin Compass, 2000)

 

Practice
 

(a) I held my ______ as I watched Zoe shinny up the flagpole.

(b) "I stood there meshed in the crowd, trying to get my lungs to work. I could take air in, but nothing would go out. Nobody seemed to notice that I couldn't _____. Everybody was busy watching the pie-eating contest."
(Rett MacPherson, Thicker Than Water. Minotaur Books, 2005)


(c) “Don't _____ on me, Jules. I don't want your germs.”
(George Ella Lyon, Holding On to Zoe. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012)
 

Answers to Practice Exercises

Glossary of Commonly Confused Words

Answers to Practice Exercises: Breath and Breathe

(a) I held my breath as I watched Zoe shinny up the flagpole.

(b) "I stood there meshed in the crowd, trying to get my lungs to work. I could take air in, but nothing would go out. Nobody seemed to notice that I couldn't breathe. Everybody was busy watching the pie-eating contest."
(Rett MacPherson, Thicker Than Water. Minotaur Books, 2005)
 

(c) “Don't breathe on me, Jules.

I don't want your germs.”
(George Ella Lyon, Holding On to Zoe. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012)
 

Glossary of Commonly Confused Words