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Off the top of my head, I can think of four Spanish translations for the English verb "to break":

  • romper
  • quebrar
  • quebrantar
  • partir

In what cases can each be used, and what are the differences between these words? Which is the most general-purpose word for "to break"?

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Romper is the most common and general verb, basically because you can use it to replace all the others except quebrantar (and still only in some uses) and still keep the meaning of the original sentence.

Quebrantar is usually reserved for laws and rules (in an abstract and non-physical way) and still can be replaced with romper. The only meaning where you cannot use romper instead of quebrantar I can think of right now is when applied to people, in a sense similar to make someone to confess. You can quebrantar a alguien but you cannot romper a alguien.

For all this, to break can almost always be translated to romper, but bear in mind that in the simplification you may lose some value.

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Partir is to "break away," usually from a group of people, or a place. It does not mean "break" in the sense of to destroy.

Quebrantar is to "break" an intangible item, such as one's health or the law. It does not refer to the "breaking" of tangible objects.

Romper and quebrar are the most nearly synonymous, insofar as they refer to the breaking of "things."

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Isn't partir also used for breaking something in two pieces? – jrdioko Jan 27 '12 at 22:26
@jrdioko: Fair enough. But the other "breaks" have the implication of breaking things into "pieces" )as opposed to breaking something in two. And something that could be naturally divided, such as an arm and shoulder.) – Tom Au Jan 28 '12 at 0:35

Quebrantar is often used to indicate that someone has health problems. For example:

María tiene muchos quebrantos de salud, ¡pobre!

It's incorrect to say:

María tiene muchas rupturas de salud.

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I think that's a regional use of the word (?) – Laura Jan 27 '12 at 13:57
@Laura it is also used in Spain. I did a search in restricting to the ".es" domain and found thousands of links where "quebrantos de salud" was used. – Icarus Jan 27 '12 at 14:47
It can be used in Spain and still be a regionalism, from the RAE definition I don't understand this meaning and never heard it around here. But that doesn't mean it's incorrect or anything I was just meaning that it's not widely used. – Laura Jan 27 '12 at 16:21
@Laura I know you are not implying that it is wrong. I am just surprised to hear that quebrantos de salud is not widely used in Spain. – Icarus Jan 27 '12 at 16:39

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