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Break vs Crack vs Burst vs Bust vs Snap vs Shatter vs Shiver

Break, crack, burst, bust, snap, shatter, shiver are comparable as general terms meaning fundamentally to come apart or cause to come apart.

Break basically implies the operation of a stress or strain that will cause a rupture, a fracture, a fissure, or a shattering either in one spot or in many.

But break goes much further than this. Often, with or without the help of an adverb, it suggests the disruption of something material or immaterial, either in whole or in part. It may then imply a collapsing or causing to collapse.

Similarly it may imply a destruction of completeness, integrity, or wholeness; thus, one breaks a set of china by losing or destroying one or more pieces of the set; one breaks a ten-dollar bill by spending part of it and getting the remainder in smaller bills or coins (break a solid group into factions).

With the same underlying notion it may imply a destruction of continuity (as by interrupting, terminating, or disintegrating).

Sometimes the sense of disruption is not obvious, and the idea of piercing so as to let someone or something make entrance or exit predominates.

Most common of the senses that bear only a slight relation to the primary sense of break is one that implies violation or transgression.

Basically crack means to make the sudden, sharp sound characteristic of a breaking of something brittle (as ice, bone, or glass). It is often applied with this denotation to things which make a similar sound yet do not necessarily break.

Crack more frequently implies a breaking of something hard or brittle or of something also hollow, often with a sudden sharp sound and usually without a separation of the parts.

Occasionally it implies merely the breaking of something that has grown dry or parched.

Burst usually implies a breaking (as into pieces) with a scattering of contents by the force of internal pressure.

Sometimes the implication is merely the sudden release or the likelihood of such release of something seeking utterance but hitherto suppressed or held back.

Sometimes a breaking under tension, under concussion, or through limitations is the only implication that the word carries or it may stress the violence of the force that opens or the suddenness with which someone or something comes out or in.

Bust may be used informally in place of burst especially in the sense of to break under the strain of pressure, of tension, or of concussion.

Snap fundamentally implies a quick, sudden effort to seize (as by biting or by snatching at), but usually this action is accompanied by a short sharp sound (as a report or a click). Hence snap is often used to imply the action of breaking or bursting when the intent is to suggest a quick, clean-cut break and the sharp sound which accompanies it.

Shatter literally implies a breaking into many pieces, but unlike burst, which emphasizes the cause, it stresses the effect, a scattering of the pieces far and wide, and a total destruction of the thing involved.

Consequently, especially as applied to intangible things, shatter consistently implies a far more devastating and destructive effect than break; thus, “his health was broken by the experience” means that it was seriously impaired, but “his health was shattered by the experience” means that it was impaired beyond the point of complete recovery.

Shiver, a chiefly rhetorical term, implies a shattering by dashing, smashing, or any usually external force and a wide scattering of fragments or splinters; in extended use it ordinarily preserves a context approaching the literal and so has never acquired a detached secondary sense.