Brake - break
Do not confuse the two homophones brake and break - although many people have, and the historically based OED lists each as an alternative spelling of most meanings of the other. Both exist as nouns and verbs - and as adjectives (see epithet). AWE has a note on the forms of the regular verb 'to break'.
brake for the general meaning 'slow down' and
break for the meanings 'to reduce to parts' and 'to interrupt'.
This advice is current practice, and a clear and simple rule of thumb; but it is not as simple as that. Over history, both spellings have been used for all the meanings listed in OED - for more, see brake (meanings) and break (meanings). The confusion between brake and break continues among learners of English, and even such professional writers as journalists, as for example this, published in The Guardian's corrections and clarifications column on 24/03/2013:
- Homophone corner: "I am very hopeful this will be a cost of living budget and that the chancellor is listening regarding fuel duty being a toxic tax and one of the biggest breaks on people getting back on their feet", which should of course be brakes (the writer means that fuel duty slows people down, not that it is an advantage to them).
- Etymological note: Of two meanings recorded in OED (1888) for the derived noun breakage, the first, "The action of a brake in stopping a train", is listed under the headword brakeage | breakage, n.; the second - current - meaning, "the action or fact of breaking" (only listed as breakage), is not recorded before 1813.