Breath vs. breathe

Breath is a noun. Breathe is a verb. When you breathe, you inhale and exhale breath. The simplicity of this distinction doesn’t prevent the occasional mixup—for example:

So imagine my surprise when the view from the east side of the Eaglecrest area on a recent snowshoe walk took my breathe away. [Juneau Empire]

Again, the Horseshoe Kingdom appeared to breath a little easier. [Indianapolis Business Journal]

These writers use the words correctly:

Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t waste any more breath on the subject. [Telegraph]

Supporters said the proposed neighborhood would breathe new life into the aging island. [San Francisco Chronicle]

Pause in this position for three to six breaths. [Los Angeles Times]

Auckland holiday makers can breathe a sigh of relief today as one of the key bottlenecks is unlocked. []

15 thoughts on “Breath vs. breathe”

    • Are you saying that “breathe” is the noun and “breath” is the verb, because that would be wrong, as two five-second searches in any dictionary will tell you. What exactly are you saying here?

    • In most circumstances you would say “was breathing”. But sometimes I guess you’ll say something like “And he breathed his last and was buried alongside his forefathers.”

  1. The people saying this is wrong must be looking at the first section of examples, not knowing that you intentionally used incorrect examples. Everyone needs to take a deep breathe and relax. Yes, that was intentional.

  2. Okay, here’s a related question. When is it proper to use “breath” as a collective noun for the many breaths that one takes? I’m reading “Divergent,” and the author (and editors) frequently write sentences like
    “His breaths become even, and he quickly falls asleep.”
    This construct occurs so frequently that it keeps jarring me. While this construct is technically correct, because there are many individual breaths in the process of falling asleep, I would have treated it as a collective noun for the act of breathing and written
    “His breath becomes even, …”
    I note that your correct examples include one of each.

    • I believe it is written this way to distinguish that it was the timing between the breaths that became even, and not the breaths themself.

  3. There are enough words that follow this pattern (breath, breathe; loath, loathe; bath, bathe; etc.) that you’d think it’d be easy enough for people to keep track!


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