Difference Between Breath & Breathe

Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature. He has taught college English for 5+ years.

The English language contains many words that are similar in both spelling and meaning but are used differently. Understanding the differences in these types of words will help you in both your reading and writing. In this lesson, we will compare the words ''breath'' and ''breathe.''

Breath vs. Breathe

Small spelling differences can make a big difference in your writing. Forgetting a letter, or adding one too many, can change the meaning, make your writing confusing, and undermine your credibility as a writer.

The difference between 'breath' and 'breathe' is a classic example. They only have one letter difference, and they mean similar things, but they actually have completely different jobs in a sentence. That is because they are different parts of speech, meaning they have different functions in a sentence. Using the wrong word will make your whole sentence grammatically incorrect and confusing to the reader.

Take a Breath In

'Breath' (rhymes with death) is a noun, and as you probably remember, a noun is a person place or thing. It describes the thing, the air, that comes into and goes out of your lungs when you breathe, which is what makes it a noun. The sentences below show the proper usage of the word breath:

  • Sally took a deep breath before beginning her performance.

These swimmers are holding their breath

  • Tom gasped for breath when he came up from under the water.
  • The nervous basketball player took short breaths before making the free throw.

More generally, 'breath' can also describe the overall power of breathing as well, as in these examples:

  • Joan caught her breath after being scared by the horror movie.
  • Phil lost his breath as he raced down the ski slope.

While these two definitions are slightly different, they are the same in that they are all describing a thing. It may not be a thing we can touch, since it is just air, but it is a thing, and a noun, nonetheless.

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