I have never run across all those words. They seem not only close in sound but be used in similar situations (according to my research), that I sometimes become unable to choose which one to use.

The Merriam-Webster says (excerpt):


intransitive verb

  1. to make a clash <cymbals clashed>

  2. to come into conflict <where ignorant armies clash by night — Matthew Arnold>; also : to be incompatible <the colors clashed>

transitive verb

: to cause to clash


transitive verb

    • a: to break violently and noisily : SMASH
    • b: to damage (an airplane) in landing
    • a: to cause to make a loud noise <crash the cymbals together>
    • b: to force (as one's way) through with loud crashing noises

4: to move toward aggressively (as in fighting for a rebound) <basketball players crashing the boards>

5: to cause (a computer system, component, or program) to crash

intransitive verb

    • a: to break or go to pieces with or as if with violence and noise
    • b: to fall, land, or hit with destructive force
    • c: to decline suddenly and steeply
    • d of a computer system, component, or program : to suffer a sudden major failure usually with attendant loss of data
  1. to make a smashing noise <thunder crashing overhead>

  2. to move or force one's way with or as if with a crash <crashes into the room>


transitive verb

  • 1

    • a: to squeeze or force by pressure so as to alter or destroy structure <crush grapes>
    • b: to squeeze together into a mass
  • 3: to reduce to particles by pounding or grinding <crush rock>

  • 4

    • a: to suppress or overwhelm as if by pressure or weight
    • b: to oppress or burden grievously <crushed by debt>
    • c: to subdue completely

intransitive verb

  1. to become crushed

  2. to advance with or as if with crushing

From above, many questions arise. For example:

  • clash(intr.) 1 and crash(tr.) 2a (= crash(intr.) 2?) shares similar examples but does it mean they're synonymous in this way?
  • Definitions in crash use "break" while crush use "squeeze", and does it mean crush is a subtype of crash, or the two are separate in manner of using forces?
  • Is, perhaps, the choice of crash and crush predictable from the object? Which is more correct to say "His dream was crashed." and "His dream was crushed."?

Ultimately, if possible, I want to know whether, for native speakers, these words indeed share some kind of base sense but differ due to external factors, or are essentially different but have many common usages. If the latter, what's the crucial difference between them?

  • 1
    Excellent edit. This question should get less close votes and more upvotes now that you've pasted some definitions from a reputable dictionary. Now, the people who want to answer your question can spend less time consulting a dictionary to double-check their answer and more time focusing on the differences between the three words. I appreciate the way you've told us what you've already learned about the three words through your research. +1.
    – J.R.
    Mar 20, 2016 at 9:43
  • I just came across this question in the review queue and I didn't understand why it was getting close votes until I read JR's comment. It was a very good edit, especially your explanation of why the definitions are confusing, and I'm voting to leave this open.
    – ColleenV
    Mar 20, 2016 at 11:26
  • I would use a second dictionary beside Merriam-Webster. Oald has much more examples. MW often gives only a meagre definition.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/crash_2
    – rogermue
    Mar 20, 2016 at 11:41
  • A good question +1. Sometimes I wonder if I use which one, especially crash vs clash.
    – user17814
    Mar 20, 2016 at 13:31

3 Answers 3


Interesting question.

Native speakers would treat the three words as have different and distinct meanings.
Only looking at the definitions it can be difficult to see the distinctions.

A clash is an argument or confrontation

The two teams clashed on the football field. ( AmE use of football )
The clash of the cymbals. ( the hitting together )

not to be confused with The Clash.

A crash can mean a "loud sound" or the "forceful coming together"

The crashing of helmets could be heard on every play when the teams clashed.
The crash of the cymbals. ( the loud sound )

it is also used idiomatically in

car crash
plane crash

meaning an accident since the accident can make a loud sound. Crash can also mean to break into or to sneak into as in gate crasher or Wedding Crasher

To crush is to squeeze together

The crush of bodies and the crash of helmets typified the annual clash between the two rival football teams.

96 people died in the Hillsborough Disaster which was a human crush

Crush also has a more positive connotation meaning having an affection for or fondness for more than "like" but less than "in love"

a high school crush

and can be found here Crush

  • Props for using them together in a sentence to illustrate the relative differences in meaning.
    – Nathan K
    Mar 20, 2016 at 14:26
  • Thank you. Both answers are great but I'm going to accept this as I love the crush/crash/clash sentence. May 1, 2016 at 12:05

To crash is to come suddenly into contact with another object with great force. One object can be in motion and the other can be stationary; or both can be in motion. A car can crash into a wall. Two cars, both in motion, can crash.

We do not say that the wall crashed into the car (unless the wall topples). Rather, the car crashes into the wall. Similarly, if a car in motion crashes into a parked car, we do not say that "the two cars crashed". The car in motion crashed into the parked car.

To crush is to apply force in a manner that causes something to become deformed. The application of force can be sudden or gradual.

To clash is when two (or more) things come together, with force. Both must be actively engaged in a course of action. It can be used figuratively with parties (armies, institutions, countries, sports teams, etc).


Two things clash if they don't mix or contrast greatly, especially in regards to visuality. Usually these two things are abstract or nonphysical, like colors, or cultures, but things like parts of outfits can also clash.

X crashes if it collides with something at a high speed. Crash is involved with a lot of slang use, e.g. it can mean to sleep on someone's couch, and software engineering uses the term to describe a program ending unexpectedly.

Crush means for something to be squeezed to death or to the point of being broken/damaged, typically from a weight at the top. E.g. you crush autumn leaves (or bugs) with your foot. There's a few slang uses for crush as well, e.g. "a crush" means you have an infatuation with someone.

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