What does the idiom "break even" mean?

Idioms are generally defined as groups of words that form a meaningful whole when they come together, even though the words in them do not make sense on their own. They have produced many idioms according to their own cultural characteristics in communities using the English language. What does break even mean? In what situations is break even used?

Meaning of "break even"


The idiom 'break even' refers to a situation wherein a venture does not lead to a net gain or loss, due to balance between costs and revenue. This can be applied to any situation involving business, finance, or investments, where the amount of money spent is equal to the amount of money earned back.


The exact origin of the phrase 'break even' is uncertain; however, its use has been recorded as early as the mid-1900s. The phrase is likely derived from the phrase 'break down even', which has been used for centuries to describe a situation where expenses are accurately weighed against profits. In the early 20th century, this phrase was modified to 'break even', which then became the idiom that is still used today.


The phrase 'break even' can be used in a variety of contexts. It is most commonly used to describe a situation in which the cost of an investment or enterprise is equal to the revenue it has generated. It can also be used to describe any situation where there is no net gain or loss, such as a business that is not making any profits but is not losing money either. Additionally, it can be used to describe a situation where two competing interests or goals are reaching an equal level of success or failure.

Example Sentences

  • After months of hard work and investment, the company finally managed to break even.
  • We were able to break even on our project, so we weren't at a loss.
  • The two teams were playing to a break even score until the last minute.

The meanings of the words in the "break even" idiom

The Global Spread of English Idioms

As English has become a global language, its idioms have spread far beyond the borders of the UK and USA. For instance, the idiom "beat around the bush" has equivalents in many other languages, such as "tourner autour du pot" in French and "dar vueltas al asunto" in Spanish. Meanwhile, other idioms have been adapted for local contexts, such as the Russian idiom "?? ???? ???????" (ne svoya rubashka), which translates to "not one's own shirt," meaning to be in an uncomfortable or unfamiliar situation.


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