Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference Between Hold on And Hang on

What is the difference between the expressions ‘hold on’ and ‘hang on’? Both of these expressions use the preposition ‘on’ and either the verb ‘hold’ or ‘hang’. They also both convey the meaning of gripping something with one’s hands and not letting go, whether in a figurative or literal sense. However, there is a slight nuance of difference between these verb phrases and when it is appropriate to use one or the other.

‘Hold on’ is a phrasal verb that uses the verb ‘hold’ and can be used with its various tenses. It is used in a few different circumstances, related to the different meanings of ‘hold’. If used in a literal sense, it means to grip or grasp something tightly with one’s hands and is often used in providing directions about how something is to be done. For example: Hold on to the handle and pull the door open. It can also have a more figurative meaning, as in to endure or keep going despite difficulties. For example: Just hold on a little longer and you will get the money you need to pay your bills. Finally, ‘hold on’ can mean to stop, pause or wait for a short period of time. For example: Hold on, I’ll be right back. It is often used with ‘in a minute’ in this sense. For example: Hold on a minute, and we’ll be arriving. This expression does not refer to the exact amount of time of one minute, rather it means a short period of time.

‘Hang on’ is also a phrasal verb in a similar manner, but uses the verb ‘hang’. Since ‘hang’ can be used in a sense to mean ‘hold’, ‘hang on’ can sometimes be used just the way ‘hold on’ is in a literal sense of holding on to or gripping tightly. ‘Hang on’, though, can take on the connotation of clinging on to rather than just gripping an object with one’s hand, especially in a controlled way in order to do something, such as open a door or make a handle work. You cannot hang on to a doorknob to open it. For example: He reached out and hung on to the seat as she drove around the corner.

‘Hang on’ also can mean to wait for a short period of time, just like ‘hold on’, however, it is important to note that is a more informal usage of the expression. For example: Hang on for a minute, I’ll be right back. Likewise, it is often used with ‘for a minute’. Additionally, it may be used in a way related to this sense in informal spoken English to ask someone to repeat themselves or provide clarification. For example: Hang on, did you just say that she lost her job? One difference between the usage of the two expressions is that ‘hang on’ is generally not used in the figurative sense to keep going or to endure. Rather ‘hang in there’ is used instead. For example: Hang in there and you’ll feel better soon.


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