Breath and Breathe

Writers occasionally confuse the words breath and breathe.

Breath

The word breath is a noun that denotes the air either inhaled or exhaled during breathing. Colloquially, it can also mean a short pause (e.g., Take a breath and try again.)

Of note, breath rhymes with death.

Examples:
  • Paul pinched his nose, took a breath and jumped off the boat.
  • He would fight until his last breath.

Breathe

The word breathe (which rhymes with seethe) is a verb with the following closely related meanings:

To inhale and expel air from the lungs.
  • Virtually all fish breathe through gills.
  • Is she breathing?
  • (Note: Breathe drops the e when ing is added.)
To allow gas or moisture to pass through.
  • The new synthetic material can breathe to prevent moisture building up against the skin.
To impart (often used figuratively).
  • He breathed new life into the project.
  • He breathed a sigh of relief.

A Quick Test

A Trick to Spot Breathe

Native English speakers only tend to confuse breath and breathe in writing. Therefore, if you use the e on the end of breathe to remind you that the ea is pronounced EE (i.e., breathe rhymes with seethe), then you will eliminate this error.