I have some question about a possible usage error here:

An American diplomatic commission was sent to France in July 1797 to negotiate problems that were threatening to break out into war.

Is it standard English to write "the problems broke out into war"? I cannot find this usage of "break out" in dictionaries.

  • Your feeling is right. It is no optimal formulation, but journalistic text, often written under pressure of time or edited several times when the text was too long, etc.
    – rogermue
    Commented Jun 27, 2015 at 6:04
  • Pimples that appear suddenly are said to break out. A person with pimples is said to be "breaking out". A person can be "breaking out in a rash". Fires are often said to break out. A fist-fight can break out. tinyurl.com/pvhv9xd
    – TimR
    Commented Jun 27, 2015 at 10:08

2 Answers 2


It is grammatically correct. You wouldn't find something like the problems broke out into war in dictionaries.

"verb 1. break out - start abruptly; "After 1989, peace broke out in the former East Bloc"


While it is grammatically correct, it is certainly not a common useage, and is almost certainly a slip by the author of the Wiki article. Ngram, for instance, shows no examples at all of "broke out into war".

The author was thinking of the phrase "war broke out", which has widespread useage. enter image description here https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=war+broke+out&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2Cwar%20broke%20out%3B%2Cc0

Note the peaks at 1918 and 1942.

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