by Liz Walter
Today’s post is about language around the activity of breathing – something we usually do without thinking about it unless we have a medical problem or are deliberately doing breathing exercises, for example during yoga practice.
Let’s start with something very basic: the difference between the noun breath, pronounced /breθ/ and the verb breathe, pronounced /briːð/. Notice that both the vowel sound and the ‘th’ sound are pronounced differently in the verb and the noun.
She breathed in deeply, filling her lungs.
When they exhaled, you could see their breath in the cold air.
Take a deep breath for me, please, and hold it for as long as you can.
Most of us become breathless or out of breath (feel that we can’t breathe enough) if we run very fast. We start to pant or breathe heavily. In British English, we sometimes say that we are puffed out. We need to rest to catch our breath or get our breath back:
He was breathless with excitement.
They had run all the way and were still panting.
There’s no rush. Take a moment to get your breath back.
People may have breathing difficulties because they are ill. If breathing is laboured (UK)/labored (US), it takes a lot of effort and if it is ragged, the rhythm of the breaths is uneven. Shallow breaths may not take enough oxygen into the body, while someone who wheezes makes a rough sound when they breathe:
Her breathing became laboured and we decided to call an ambulance.
My chest hurt and my breathing was shallow.
He was allergic to the cat and soon started to cough and wheeze.
A common collocation to describe difficulty in breathing is to say that someone is struggling for breath or struggling to breathe. We can also say that they are gasping or gasping for breath. If something such as medicine helps them, they can breathe (more) easily, but someone who can’t get enough breath will eventually suffocate (die because they don’t have enough oxygen):
The old man was struggling for breath.
Let’s open a window so we can all breathe more easily.
The man was suffocated by a plastic bag over his head.
I hope you find these words useful. Can you think of any more words connected with breathing?