Is the phrase, "the vending machine was broke" acceptable, or do we have to say "the vending machine was broken"?

It seems perfectly legal to say, "the vending machine was restocked"; both restocked and broke are past tenses (of restock and break, respectively), so I would think "broke" is correct too.


5 Answers 5


The word Broke is also used as an adjective meaning Without money; however, that meaning doesn't fit into the context of your sentence. Therefore, a past-participle (broken) would be correct to be used.

The vending machine was broken.

P.S. restock is a regular verb whose past and past-participle forms are the same (restocked). But break is an irregular verb whose past and past-participle forms are broke and broken respectively. Therefore, you can use restocked in your sentence which we would be being used as past-participle.

Edit: There are many verbs which in their base-form are used as an adjective, eg;

  1. The airport is close at hand.
  2. The bridge is open to traffic.
  • 3
    It is not immedately clear whether "broke" doesn't fit the context: If it's a machine that gives change it could have run out of coins; in that case one could jokingly say "it's broke". Unfortunately the OP does not give us any context beyond the machine. Commented Apr 11, 2019 at 11:17
  • As a native English speaker, I wouldn't consider close (being near) to be the adjectival form of to close (to shut). They're really two separate words which happen to share a spelling. (They may have some etymological connection, but that really doesn't make them related in the same way open (adj.) and to open are.)
    – R.M.
    Commented Apr 11, 2019 at 12:39
  • @R.M. "They're really two separate words which happen to share a spelling." if there's any doubt: they are pronounced differently.
    – JimmyJames
    Commented Apr 11, 2019 at 15:15
  • 2
    @PeterA.Schneider I'm not a native but I wouldn't even consider calling a machine broke just like I wouldn't use the term wealthy. To be broke you need to not be able to resupply at all and it's only a company that owns the machine that can go into such state. The machine is just temporarily out of coins.
    – Ister
    Commented Apr 12, 2019 at 6:30

The vending machine was broken.

No: in your examples "restocked" is a past participle verb form, not a past tense one. In a passive construction, replacing it with the verb "break" requires the past participle "broken", not the past tense form "broke".

Having said that, it is actually ambiguous here as to whether "broken" is a verb or an adjective, both of which have the same shape.

As a verbal passive it describes an event (The vending machine was broken by the customer), but as an adjectival one it describes a state -- the state resulting from someone breaking the vending machine.


You are comparing these two sentences

The vending machine was broken
The vending machine was restocked

The first one have got this structure:

[SUBJECT] [VERB] [ADJECTIVE] - [The vending machine] [was] [broken]

The second one have got this structure:
[SUBJECT] [VERB - PASSIVE VOICE] - [The vending machine] [was restocked]

You construct the passive voice with the verb to be followed by the past participle of the main verb, NOT with the past tense. Notice that there are irregular verbs, like break, whose past participle [broken] is different from its past tense [broke].

broke (in your intended meaning, if you want it to mean "damaged") is not an adjective nor the past participle so you can not use it in that sentence.

I think that

The vending machine was broke [moneyless]

is not idiomatic. Vending machines has got no money of their own to spare.

You can say

The vending machine has got no change, you have got to introduce the exact quantity.

if you want to reflect that the vending machine is not going to return the difference between the selected item's price and the inserted money.

  • Broken can be either an adjective or a verb in that sentence (see BillJ's answer). Break can be an adjective and it normally means "moneyless".
    – user3395
    Commented Apr 11, 2019 at 9:45
  • @userr2684291 I don't think that "The vending machine is broke" (neither broken nor break, the words that you mentioned) meaning that the poor vending machine have got no money is idiomatic. Bill J has stated that is difficult to distinguish between adjective and verb with such a small context.
    – RubioRic
    Commented Apr 11, 2019 at 9:52
  • Er, that was a mistake – I meant to write "broke" instead of "break". I didn't express my opinion on the actual sentence, but on what you wrote. The point is, broken can be interpreted as an adjective and a verb in that sentence, and broke can be an adjective in general (with the mentioned meaning).
    – user3395
    Commented Apr 11, 2019 at 10:00
  • @userr2684291 I've edited my answer trying to express that is not broke [moneyless] what I mean, it's the non-existent broke [damaged?]. And I was addressing the context provided, my answer is context-related, I think that it's not fair that you express your opinion [-1?] without taking into account that context.
    – RubioRic
    Commented Apr 11, 2019 at 10:08
  • The machine was broken – in this sentence, broken can be interpreted as an adjective or as a verb. In your answer you provide one analysis. I suggested reading BillJ's answer where it's argued that there are two possible analyses.
    – user3395
    Commented Apr 11, 2019 at 10:15

Please note: In AmE English, there is increasing use of:

  • The vending machine was broke. [instead of broken]
  • The man was bit by the dog. [instead of bitten]
  • The girl was took off the field by the coach. [instead of taken]

Now, how do you want to sound?

The standard grammar here is broken, bitten and taken off the field. This is the usage for passive sentences.

The standard form uses the past participle here. For irregular verbs, that would be the "third form", as in bite, bit,bitten or take, took, taken for verbs with three forms. Of course,some only have two forms: find, found, found. - He was found by the people looking for him.

If you do not use the standard form (by the way, people speak how they speak), your speech will be marked as (depending on whom is judging you): uneducated or regional or dialectal.

If you were being interviewed for a fancy job, how you speak can make a big difference. If you come from a region where people often speak like that (for example, Texas or Alabama), you would still be expected to code switch and use standard English.

"He was bit by the dog." is often considered the same type of speech as: "He don't do his work right". That would be using don't instead of doesn't in the third person singular of the present tense.

So, to answer the question: It all depends on how you want to sound.


to be broken = to be damaged, to not (properly) work

to be broke = to have no money (broke = adjective)

BUT: we say about people to be broke, not about machines.

So in your context, "broke" is definitely not an option.

  • 1
    "broke" in this context is decidedly 'lazy' usage, but common in spoken English in some areas.
    – MikeB
    Commented Apr 11, 2019 at 11:17
  • I am not sure what you want to say. Will you please elaborate a little more? Thank you.
    – virolino
    Commented Apr 11, 2019 at 11:54
  • 1
    Using "broke" in this way is basically slang. It is generally used in a knowingly un-educated manner. The speaker usually knows that it isn't 'correct' English, but does so regardless - to sound cool and trendy if you like. I wouldn't quite go so far as to call it regional dialect, but some people might.
    – MikeB
    Commented Apr 11, 2019 at 14:13
  • Ah, now I understand. This kind of "abuse" is probably encountered in all languages. But, personally, I would avoid explaining how a language can be used "lazy" :)
    – virolino
    Commented Apr 12, 2019 at 5:25

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