In my language for both cases below there is only one single verb! I have no idea which word works more appropriately in this sense and if they all work here, then how shall I distinguish these verbs from one another in order to use them more properly:

  • Don't let your kid / dog (separate / break away) from you.
  • We (separated from each other / broke away from each other) at 4 o'clock and I've not heard from him ever since.

For me, both "break away" and "separate" work, and the only difference between them is that separate is a bit more formal.

  • 3
    Neither of your first two suggestions are idiomatic for the context. Common alternatives include Don't let your kid wander off / become separated from you. For the second, separated (or parted) is fine, but we wouldn't normally explicitly specify the contextually obvious from each other. Note that from you is equally "obvious" and unnecessary in the first example, so again it would often be omitted. Apr 12, 2019 at 16:40
  • Thank you @FumbleFingers! Are these parts considered to be redundant or superfluous? I mean the must be omitted or that's just a matter of style and someone can let them remain as they are?
    – A-friend
    Apr 13, 2019 at 0:07
  • I think noticeably pointless is probably better than redundant or superfluous. It's a minor point, but it wouldn't normally be included (which is why it's noticeable). And since your audience / readers would probably have already noted other signs that you're not a native Anglophone, I think they might be more inclined to see it as evidence of lower competence in idiomatic usage, rather than just meaningless extra verbiage (which obviously native speakers do come out with themselves in many contexts). Apr 13, 2019 at 12:52

2 Answers 2


We parted ways at 4 o'clock.

Don't let your kid wander away from you.

  • Thank you @kaique. Just regarding my first example, comparing "wander off", "wander away" and "become separated" do you think that they all sound natural and idiomatic, but "wander away" works the best? Also in my secind examole between "separated", "parted" and "parted ways" do you think that "parted ways" is the most common way to express the same thing?
    – A-friend
    Apr 13, 2019 at 0:14
  • 1
    Wander off, wander away are very common, I wouldn't say "don't let your child become separated from you" that's something you'd only see that on a warning sign or something. Separated and parted isn't idiomatic, I would just say "We parted ways".
    – Kaique
    Apr 13, 2019 at 0:24

'Break away' implies more violence than 'separate'.

Separating can happen by mutual consent or intentional design. It can be reversible. It sounds technical and formal.

Breaking away sounds more permanent and destructive. It can imply more emotion. It can imply a one-sided separation or unintended structural failure.

But it isn't idiomatic for the end of romantic relationships. That's usually 'breaking up' instead of 'breaking away'.

If a person or group were described as breaking away from another person or group, it would imply something political or violent to me.

Both expressions are more common in formal contexts like narrative, technical reports, etc. They are both less common in informal dialog.

Neither expression would be used for a dog or child as in the OP's first example.

"Don't let your kid wander away." "Keep you kid with you." "Keep your dog on a leash." Would all be more idiomatic.

Separated is only idiomatic for two individuals as in the OP's second example if it involves a romantic relationship or a formal narrative. 'Broke away' would not be idiomatic in that situation.

Examples that are idiomatic:

The boosters separated from the rocket at 30,000 feet. (A formal context.)

The wing broke away from the fuselage. (This is a formal, narrative context. In informal dialog something like "The wing tore off" or "The wing came off" would be more common.)

Paul broke away from Doug and ran. (Implies Doug had physically restrained him or that they were involved in combat or at least a confrontation. This is narration, not dialog. Dialog covering this situation might be "Then I threw him off me and ran!" or "Then I turned away and ran!")

The institutionalists broke away from the conservatives four years ago. (Idiomatic for political factions splitting from one another.)

Paul and I separated at four o'clock and I have not heard from him since. (Separated here could mean they ended a romantic relationship or it could be a formal narrative context, as in a police report or military debriefing. It would not be common in informal dialog. For informal dialog it would be something more like "I haven't seen Paul since about four." Or "Paul and I left at four and I haven't seen him since.")

Paul and I broke up at four o'clock and I have not heard from him since. (This is the end of a romantic relationship or a formal meeting depending on the context.)

The meeting broke up at four o'clock and I haven't heard from Paul since.

We got seperated in traffic. (Seperated is idiomatic in informal dialog for people who are traveling together rather than leaving separately from the same place.)

The group separated and went home. (Works in narration, would not be idiomatic in informal dialog. The dialog equivalent would be something like "Then we all went home.")

Team four will separate from the column at four o'clock. (A formal context.) Team four will break away from the column at four o'clock.

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