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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"?

  • ... and then there's descomponer. // Pretty much, you just have to learn the common combinations, e.g. Romper intransitive: for breaking off a relationship; quebrar la paz; quebrantar la galleta (crumble a cookie into pieces) -- for this verb, my image is when the Berlin wall was broken apart by people breaking off pieces; partir la salchicha en dos -- divvy up the hot dog into two pieces. When something mechanical breaks, it's usually descomponerse. – aparente001 May 15 '19 at 3:41
8

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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  • You can sometimes see "quebrantar" in books. Specially for emotions. "Mi ánimo quebrantado" (my broken spirit) or similar. :-) – darkgaze May 14 '19 at 15:10
  • Not to mention the famous "duelos y quebrantos" – enxaneta May 15 '19 at 15:11
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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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  • 3
    Isn't partir also used for breaking something in two pieces? – jrdioko Jan 27 '12 at 22:26
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    @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
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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 Google.es restricting to the ".es" domain and found thousands of links where "quebrantos de salud" was used. – Icarus Jan 27 '12 at 14:47
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    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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Estimated reading time: 5 minutes.

No TL;DR, but here is a short answer to your question:


Definitions were arrived at after looking at a number of sources to include Collins, Tureng, WordReference, and Reverso. If you're looking for lots of detail, I highly recommend taking a look at the Collins entries for all four of these words. To get you started, here's the Collins entry for "romper." I'll explain the other columns briefly.

The "Frequency" column indicates how often the word is found and the lower the number, the more frequent the word is. The frequency list I used came from www.opensubtitles.org. The column to the right of "Frequency" is pretty self-explanatory. The source used for the "Etymology" column was Wiktionary. Collocations came from linguatools. Numbers in parentheses represent the number of hits for each collocation. This column shows you how interchangeable these words can be (especially "romper" and "quebrar"), but also how much more frequent "romper" is.

If you can't see the chart very well, open this page up in Chrome, then simply right click on the chart, and open it up in another tab.


The answers in this thread are good, but you'll find even more information about these words (especially "romper" and "quebrar") on the web. Apart from the "short answer" I gave above, the rest of this answer will just focus on "romper" and "quebrar," simply because that's what led me to this thread in the first place and I feel that others have sufficiently addressed "quebrantar" and "partir" already. Below are some excerpts from discussion threads I thought were pretty good regarding "romper" and "quebrar" and, at the same time, offered something new or supported something already mentioned in this thread. A link to the full thread from which each excerpt came follows each set of excerpts:

The above advice is helpful, but if you don't mind me going off on a slight tangent, keep in mind that "quebrar" can also mean to go bankrupt. "Romper" is never used to mean to go bankrupt.
—StrangerCoug; New Member; El Paso, Texas

So...In case "You have broken my heart" use quebrar or romper?
—noncasper; Senior Member; China

Not exactly; quebrar is used when something "long" is broken into two or more pieces, for instance a bone of the arm/leg or a stick, but neither a plate or the heart.

Romper is to stop working, but also to break, including those situations where you may use quebrar. So, in case of doubt, use romper, and there will be no problem.
—Duometri; Senior Member; Madrid, Spain

Quebrar para mí implica que haya grietas o fisuras, quiebras un hueso porque se agrieta y entonces se quiebra, pero es una percepción subjetiva mía. Romper es mucho más general, no implica necesariamente partir algo.

Para un corazón, definitivamente "romper": Me has roto el corazon (you broke my heart).
—nanel; Senior Member; Madrid, Spain

Sorry Nanel, bur I must contradict You.

I think, in this context, "quebrar" have a more widespread use. De la prensa: "a primera vista, no parece un joven apuesto capaz de quebrar el corazón del género femenino"; y: "me quebró el corazón a escuchar las noticias del terremoto en Perú."
—Eclisse; New Member; Italy

—From "romper - quebrar," a WordReference discussion thread


Using "quebrar" instead of "romper" with "el corazón" appears to be just a personal preference, but may be more frequently seen in books than in online news articles. Across all mediums, "romper el corazón" is far more common, but according to what I found in CORDE and CREA, as well as this Ngram here, it appears that "quebrar el corazón" was the only phrase used to express this sentiment until about the 20th century. Only in recent times (i.e., the last 20 years or so) has "romper el corazón" been more frequently used than "quebrar el corazón," which could indicate that someone who prefers the latter version of this phrase may be from an older generation.


I´m just looking at my dictionary here (Collins). The examples for quebrar include bones, health, heart, mood (depression), body (twist or bend at the waist).

The much longer list for "romper" includes windows, curtains, paper, dishes, furniture, machinery, rope, clothing, balance, silence, contracts, relationships ... but also bones.
—kattya

—From "'romper' versus 'quebrar,'" a Span¡shD!ct discussion thread


My textbook uses romper for body parts (to break a bone) but my friend told me that native speakers never use romperse for body parts and that fracturarse should be used or possibly quebrarse and that romperse is for objects like a piece of paper. Is this so?
—KitKat913; New Member, United States

Then your friend is not from Spain, for sure, because here we use "romperse" all the time to refer to broken body parts (me he roto la nariz, se le ha roto la muñeca, etc...). "Fracturar" is fine to describe broken bones, but it sounds a little too technical, and usually only medical staff use it.
—BillBasque; Senior Member; Basque Country, Spain

—From "romper / fracturar / quebrarse," a WordReference discussion thread

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