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In the King James Version of the Bible, I Corinthians 11:24 says (emphasis mine):

And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. >>I Cor 11:24 (KJV)

Why did the KJV translators use "brake" as the past tense for break instead of broke? Every other version/translation of the Bible uses "broke" in that verse. I tried googling brake but it only comes up with the typical definitions such as a brake on a car, not a past tense for break. And googling for the past tense for break also came up empty.

I seem to recall hearing a long time ago that there was no real English translation for the unique type of conjugation used in the original text (Hebrew?); so they used brake. But I have no confirmation of that.

Is there any insight to etymology of brake in this context and why KJV uses brake while every other translation uses broke?

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    Because the other versions are more recent, and not written in quite so archaic English. Shakespeare (writing around the same time) used brake too: This week he hath been heavy, sour, sad, And much different from the man he was; But till this afternoon his passion Ne'er brake into extremity of rage. – Peter Shor May 11 '17 at 1:26
  • There probably are Hebrew verb forms which don't translate well to English. But the KJV writers didn't invent new conjugations to translate them. Nobody doeseth that. – Peter Shor May 11 '17 at 1:28
  • To understand old English, looking at modern German is sometimes helpful. In German, the past tense of "brechen" (break) is "brach." Pretty similar. – curious-proofreader May 11 '17 at 1:36
  • The authors of the KJV intentionally used (mildly) archaic language. (And understand that the KJV was the first "authoritative" English translation of the Bible -- most others are later and attempt to "modernize" the language.) – Hot Licks May 11 '17 at 2:22
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    The original text is in Greek (more precisely, Koine Greek), not Hebrew. – michael.hor257k May 11 '17 at 6:57
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Every other version/translation of the Bible uses "broke" in that verse.

Not the old ones. Look at these examples from Middle English:

Ihesus tok bred..And brak and tok his disciples.
a1325(c1280) SLeg.Pass.(Pep 2344)

Jhesus toke breed and blisside, and bracke and ȝaue to his disciplis
(c1384) WBible(1) (Dc 369(2))

The history is complicated, with a number of different spellings—many of which were used at the same time. Both brake and break were used at the point in time when KJV was written.

Here's what OED.com says (and they specifically mention KJV):

The normal past tense brak, brack (= Old English bræc, Ormin's bracc), remains in the north; the normal plural in Middle English was brēken, breeke(n, which would have become breake in 16th cent.; but by the operation of levelling, we find also a Middle English singular brēk, breek, and a (north.) plural brak, brack; a plural braken occurs in Layamon, in late Middle English brāke became the regular form both in singular and plural, which, being retained in the Bible of 1611, is still familiar as an archaic form. But early in the 16th cent., if not before, brake began to be displaced by the modern broke formed after the past participle Of the past participle, broken is still the regular form, but from the end of the 14th cent. this was often shortened to broke, which was exceedingly common in prose and speech during the 17–18th cent., and is still recognized in verse.

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    It's worth noting that brake for broke is not entirely alone: spake for spoke was also rather common. – Anonym May 11 '17 at 2:55
  • @Anonym "spake" might even be more common – Chris H May 11 '17 at 6:54
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"Brake" is an archaic past-tense form of "break", as Peter Shor notes. I don't know of any signficiance to its use in the KJV other than that it's archaic. I am very doubtful that it relates in any way to the Hebrew conjugation (especially since, as michael.hor257k points out, the Pauline epistles like 1 Corinthians were originally written in Koine Greek, not Hebrew).

To understand where "brake" comes from, we need to look at how this verb was conjugated in Old English. It had a different, more complicated type of vowel alternation with different vowels in the infinitive, singular past tense, plural past tense and past participle.

The Oxford English dictionary gives the forms as follows:

brecan (bricþ, past tense bræc, brǽcon, past participle brocen)

The vowel of the past participle, "short o", regularly developed to the long o of modern English "broken" due to a Middle-English vowel lengthening rule.

But the vowels of the Old English past tense forms had a more complicated development, and were eventually lost.

What seems to have happened is that in Middle English, the separate singular and plural past tense forms corresponding to Old English bræc and brǽcon (which regularly turned into something like brak and breken or breke in Middle English) became confused and were ultimately replaced by a hybrid form brake (with the "a" lengthened due to the final "e", in the same way as the "o" of the participle).

This past tense form "brake" existed for a while, but it eventually became replaced by the form "broke"; this is thought to be due to the influence of the past partiple "broken", and I think it's also likely that it was partly due to the use of "o" in the past tense of many other verbs, such as "drove" (from "drive") and "strode" (from "stride").

There are some other verbs had the same vowel pattern in their conjugation in Old English (e in the infinitive, æ in the singular past tense, ǽ in the plural past tense, o in the past participle). Verbs with this vowel pattern in Old English are called "class 4 strong verbs". Some examples that developed similarly to break are tear and bear, which have archaic past-tense forms tare and bare.

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  • Surely you meant Greek, not Hebrew. – michael.hor257k May 11 '17 at 6:54

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