A material is brittle if, when subjected to stress, it fractures with little elastic deformation and without significant plastic deformation. Brittle materials absorb relatively little energy prior to fracture, even those of high strength. Breaking is often accompanied by a sharp snapping sound.
When used in materials science, it is generally applied to materials that fail when there is little or no plastic deformation before failure. One proof is to match the broken halves, which should fit exactly since no plastic deformation has occurred.