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Breath vs. Breathe

Because of the similar spellings and related meanings, breath and breathe are commonly mixed up in English. The differences between the words are clear, however, and knowing how to use them correctly will make your writing look more accomplished and your speaking more easily understood. In addition, breathe and breath are used in several common idioms in English.

Breathe vs Breath What is the difference?

Breathe is a verb, meaning to draw air into your lungs and expel it again. To breathe is to inhale air and to exhale it once more. Breath is a noun, meaning the air brought in and exhaled when breathing. It is the actual air we draw in when we breathe. Therefore, although it’s a bit clumsy to write it this way: We breathe (verb) breath (noun). So far, that’s easy to understand: Breathe is a verb and breath is a noun. However, much of the confusion derives from the fact that many idioms in English use the words breathe and breath, and the words can also be used in other non-literal senses of breathing.

When to use Breathe?

Breathe is always used as a verb. When you breathe, you are drawing in air (breath), filling up your lungs with oxygen and exhaling the carbon dioxide. But we can also use breathe in some non-literal senses, such as letting a wine breathe or letting clothes breathe . Both these senses mean to allow air to change the quality of it, e.g., opening a bottle of wine can change the taste of it.

Examples of Breathe

  • I can’t breathe as you are holding my neck too tightly.
  • Asthma sufferers have difficulty breathing.
  • A good wine should be allowed to breathe for at least one hour.
  • After climbing the steep hill, the man breathed heavily, almost wheezing when he spoke.
  • Hang up those smelly shoes and let them breathe.

Idiomatic uses of Breathe

Breathe can be used to form many idioms. Some examples below:
  • My boss is breathing down my neck = My boss is putting me under too much scrutiny.
  • I can breathe easily now = I am relieved as a situation has been resolved.
  • He breathed new life into the team = He reinvigorated the team.
  • Jack lives and breathes football. Jack is an avid football fan.

When to use Breath?

Breath is always used as a noun. It can mean the act of breathing, e.g., drawing in breath, or can be a reference to the air that we breathe.

Examples of Breath

  • If you exhale on a cold winter’s day, you can see your breath.
  • Each breath seemed a struggle for the patient.
  • I can hold my breath for two minutes underwater.

Idiomatic uses of Breath

Like breathebreath also appears in many idioms. Some examples:
  • You take my breath away = You astound me/you are beautiful.
  • Don’t hold your breath = This thing you expect to happen probably won’t happen.
  • There is barely a breath of wind today = The air is calm/ the wind isn’t blowing.
  • Diana was like a breath of fresh air in our office = Diana lifted the spirits/performance of the office.
  • He said it under his breath = He spoke quietly

How to remember the difference?

An easy tip for remembering the difference between breathe and breath is to focus on the extra ‘e’ in breathe. If you remember that to breathe is to exhale, i.e. expel air from your lungs, then you can remember that breathe is the verb.