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I investigated the words "breach" and "violate". The definitions which I faced seem to be very close.

1) Is there a difference between these two verbs? Actually, both are used for specifying the cases in which some rules are broken. These are example sentences:

He accused the Government of breaching international law.

Countries that violate international law will be dealt with severely.

2) I always faced that breaking intellectual properties is expressed with the verb "violate".

Plagiarism is an academic dishonesty because you would violate that person's intellectual properties when it is committed.

Can I rewrite this sentence by using the word "breach" in place of the word "violate"?

  • You could refer to it as a breach of their intellectual property rights. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Feb 17 '18 at 14:44
  • Yes, the words are interchangeable: google breach of intellectual property rights. Note that, when you use the word property about something that belongs to somebody, it is uncountable. dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/property. Intellectual property belongs to somebody, and so it is uncountable: you cannot refer to intellectual properties (plural). Furthermore, I repeat @Tᴚoɯɐuo 's comment but replace could with must . You cannot break, breach or violate somebody's intellectual property: you can only breach or violate their rights to that property. – JavaLatte Feb 17 '18 at 14:57
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While the words are used similarly, it's important to understand their underlying definitions, which describe different situations:

A "breach" is a break or opening in some kind of physical barrier. This barrier can be as basic as a wall to keep out enemies, or it can be something like the hull of a ship, designed to keep out water.

In any situation, a "breach" usually intentional, undesired, sudden, and sometimes violent. Examples:

The security software around the sensitive data was be breached by a computer hacker.

Security at the border has been breached by drug smugglers so frequently as to make it little more than a hindrance to law-abiding travelers.

The prison's walls were breached by industrious prisoners tunneling with hand tools.

Metaphorically, a contract (or treaty, or agreement) can be considered a wall between what is allowed and what is not allowed. If one party breaches the contract, is as if they have broken the wall, weakening the entire structure.

A "violation" is a more generic term, meaning to significantly break, weaken, disturb, or disregard something of importance. It's not a word to use lightly; for example, you might break a child's toy but you wouldn't say you violated it.

The meteor strike violated the integrity of the spaceship's hull, but the crew quickly patched up the damage.

A "breach" is a form of "violation", but, when talking about breaks in legal or social structures, "breach" tends to be used in situations where both parties agree to terms (like a contract or a treaty) while "violate" is used everything else, where the structures are more imposed on one side (like city laws, school rules, property rights, terms of service, etc.)

The VP's actions were a serious violation of the company's sexual harassment guidelines.

It would not be unusual to say instead that the VP breached the guidelines, although this might suggest the VP did so on purpose rather than through ignorance or negligence.


Side note: On top of the other differences, "violate" carries an additional meaning of "sexual assault". While this is not the case with something like:

They violated their software agreement by installing it on an unsupported hardware configuration

it is still something to keep in mind as the result can be unintentionally weird or humorous. For example:

The army violated the fortress walls

suggests something entirely different from, "the army breached the walls".

  • I disagree that "breach" implies "intentional." For example, "The sea breached the dikes in two places" does not imply that Neptune became wroth and smote the dike with his trident. Moreover, in legal and quasi-legal use, a "breach" does not necessarily imply seriousness. Any failure to comply with the rules is a breach. A breach of the peace may be no more than playing your drums at an inopportune time of night rather than rioting. – Jeff Morrow Jan 13 at 15:23
  • @JeffMorrow which is why I qualified it with "usually". Obviously an entity can't breach something intentionally if it has no mind that can intend anything. But in terms of expressions like "breach of contract", the purpose is to assign fault -- the party stipulating breach implies some conscious act by the other party, even if only due to omission or negligence. If not, then there are many other, softer, words which can be used other than "breach". – Andrew Jan 13 at 15:46
  • @ Andrew But negligence is not necessarily intentional, nor are most omissions intentional. In fact, that is one important reason why many contracts require notice of breach by the offended party to the offending party and time for the offending party to cure. It is the failure to cure in a timely fashion after notice that evidences intent. As for your softer words, please let me know a half dozen for when I must next give notice that the terms of a contract are not being adhered to. – Jeff Morrow Jan 13 at 17:04
  • @JeffMorrow I'll concede the point about "intention" as it's neither here nor there. But I still think "breach" is a relatively aggressive term when applied to contracts -- it's the semantic equivalent of a shot across the bow, as it strongly implies imminent legal action. If you wanted to sound more conciliatory, you've already used one such phrase, "failure to adhere" (to the terms of the contract), which (depending on the context) allows forgiveness if the lapse is corrected in a timely manner. – Andrew Jan 13 at 22:50
  • Not willing to be too obstreperous about the non-material. Probably I would entitle the "Re" line as "Official Notice of Breach" while saying something like "We assume the following breach was inadvertent and hope that it will promptly be cured, but we are not waiving the breach before complete cure." I personally have approved way too many dollars in legal bills for lawyers to argue about what words mean to approve any words that are mealy mouthed or reasonably capable of multiple construction. There are good reasons for boilerplate and for saying exactly what you mean. – Jeff Morrow Jan 14 at 0:50
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The OP's questions:

QUOTE: 1) Is there a difference between these two verbs? Actually, both are used for specifying the cases in which some rules are broken. These are example sentences:

He accused the Government of breaching international law.

Countries that violate international law will be dealt with severely.

2) I always faced that breaking intellectual properties is expressed with the verb "violate".

Plagiarism is an academic dishonesty because you would violate that person's intellectual properties when it is committed. UNQUOTE

1) Yes, to breach or violate an international treaty is the same thing. to breach a contract is the same as to violate a contract. The nouns are the same: a breach of contract; a violation of a contract.

For 2), the sentence is incorrect, it might read:

Plagiarism constitutes academic dishonesty because when you engage in plagiarism, you are violating a person's IP rights. In formal legal language, we say in English: to violate a person's rights. Not: breach them. Though breach is also used. The formal term in English is: a violation of intellectual property rights, also known as: the infringement of intellectual property rights.

So, breach or violate a contract, treatise or other written document.

To violate a person's rights.

  • breach of rights is well-attested. google.com/… – Tᴚoɯɐuo Feb 17 '18 at 17:00
  • Yes, one can say breach of rights but normally, one writes or says: this or that is a violation of [my] rights. That is not to say it doesn't exist out "there". In the OP's sentence, the verb violate is much better than breach. Anyway, that was not the problem with the sentence. The problem, as pointed out by JavaLatte, was leaving out the word rights. – Lambie Feb 17 '18 at 17:08
  • The usual term is "violation of intellectual property rights" aka infringement. As I said, that is not to say that one can't use breach in some cases. – Lambie Feb 17 '18 at 17:15
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In its legal and quasi-legal use, "breach" implies any failure to comply, no matter how slight. "Violate" is what lawyers call "characterization" and is meant to imply "serious" or "reprehensible." There is no action called "violation of contract" but rather one for "breach of contract."

In the US, we tend to view any infingement on constitutional or fundamental moral rights as potentially serious and so tend to call any such infringements "violations" whether or not they are trivial.

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