Why do people say "I am broke" instead of "I am broken"?



I know these are correct:

I am done.

He is chosen.

My phone is broken.

But why do we say

I am broke.

instead of

I am broken.

Is that even grammatically correct?

Hao Wu

Posted 2019-07-23T10:07:44.747

Reputation: 631



In formal English both are quite grammatical, but they mean something different:

I am broken.

This means I am injured or in bad shape in some way.

I am broke.

This means that I have no money.

In colloquial speech, and even dialectic (informal) writing, some people do use broke in place of broken:

I'm all broke up about it.

It's similar to shook being used in place of shaken:

I'm all shook up.

This is understood and acceptable idiomatically, but it's not something that would be appropriate in a formal context.

Formally, the last two example sentences should be:

I'm all broken up about it.
I'm all shaken up.

Note that broke (see Merriam-Webster's definition) is the past tense of the verb break, and it can be used correctly in a formal context:

The chair broke.

But it's not an adjective. The only defined adjective broke is the one that means without money.

Jason Bassford

Posted 2019-07-23T10:07:44.747

Reputation: 34 584

8Thanks. I thought maybe when you say I am broke, the broke here is not the past tense of break, just a homonym of it. Like record(verb) and record(noun). – Hao Wu – 2019-07-23T10:47:01.143

6@HaoWu Yes, it can be frustrating when an identically spelled word actually has different meanings. We can only tell from context. – Jason Bassford – 2019-07-23T10:48:27.850

Don't forget I'm (all) shook. – Justin – 2019-07-23T21:04:38.203

6@HaoWu The word broke meaning "out of money" does originally derive from break (when someone's business or other financial venture was broken), but that's been so long almost no one remembers. – chrylis -cautiouslyoptimistic- – 2019-07-23T22:58:17.673

13@HaoWu record (verb) and record (noun) are not exact homonyms. The verb has stress on the second syllable and the noun has stress on the first syllable. – CJ Dennis – 2019-07-24T03:15:54.167

@CJ Dennis: So what IS the proper term for two words that are spelled alike but have different meanings? As e.g. I read this post today, I read other posts yesterday. – jamesqf – 2019-07-24T03:40:15.343

@jamesqf Take a look at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homonym. There are many possibilities depending on your case. read (present tense) and read (past tense) would be polysemes. The previous example would be heteronyms.

– CJ Dennis – 2019-07-24T05:49:13.943

5@jamesqf The precise term for words which are spelled alike but have different meaning is homographs. There is some inconsistency in exactly what "homonym" means, since some define it to be a word where either spelling or pronunciation is the same, whereas others require both. FWIW my (Collins) desk dictionary gives only the former definition. – Especially Lime – 2019-07-24T14:12:07.017

For an example of the colloquial usage of "broke" meaning "broken", see the line "I feel so broke up" in the song Sloop John B (Beach Boys version) – user91988 – 2019-07-24T20:49:42.250

1@EspeciallyLime The spelling the same "homonym" is clearly a homonym of the pronunciation the same "homonym". Obviously. (To learners: this is a joke) – Yakk – 2019-07-25T13:51:19.727

Using "broke" as an adjective may be formally defined, but that's (coincidentally) different from being acceptable in formal contexts. I've never thought about the difference before seeing this answer, and perhaps ELL'ers would be confused by the distinction. – jpaugh – 2019-07-25T20:40:26.063


"I am broke" doesn't refer to being broken. It's an informal way of saying that someone doesn't have any money left.

e.g. - "I can't order pizza today, I'm broke."

Cambridge dictionary


Posted 2019-07-23T10:07:44.747

Reputation: 311


You have it backwards. The use of broke as an adjective to mean not having any money is *not* slang. It's a well-defined word. But saying I am broke to say that you're broken *is* slang and it *does* refer to being broken when used in that way.

– Jason Bassford – 2019-07-23T10:33:30.213

3@JasonBassford My bad - I meant that 'broke' is a colloquialism, or is informal. I've never seen anyone say 'I'm all broke up', although maybe I'm just not following the right twitters – tryin – 2019-07-23T11:05:44.073

@Tim Macmillan dictionary and Collins dictionary say otherwise. I'm sorry I couldn't find the OED entry

– tryin – 2019-07-24T08:10:30.710

5@JasonBassford: The relevant definition in the full OED is broke 3 slang - *In predicative use = broken adj.; ruined financially, bankrupt; (often less seriously) penniless*. Maybe different people have different ideas about what "slang" means. Me, I'm with the OED here. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2019-07-25T01:02:30.673