The dictionary meaning of “Hold On” is to keep a firm grip on something, to continue doing something, keep going, or wait for someone or something, to keep a telephone connection open.
- He held on to my arm so I would not fall. (He gripped my arm ….)
- When the thief tried to grab the phone, Simon held on to it tightly. (Simon gripped his phone tightly ….)
- Hold on till I am dressed. (Wait for me or till I am dressed).
- He held on to the branch until help came to him. (He continued to hold the branch…)
- Phone conversation: Please hold on while I transfer the line to Mr. Smith. (Please do not disconnect….)
- Please hold the line while I check if your bill has been paid. (Please do not disconnect).
- Jones now finds it difficult to climb stairs without holding on to a railing. (Mrs. Jones needs to grip a railing to climb stairs).
- Hold on to your temper. No damage was done to the car. (Stop raging…)
- Hold on to your hat or the wind will blow it away. (Grip)
If you are doing a task and someone tells you to “hold on”, they are in a sense telling you to stop what you are doing because you may be doing something wrong or they have a suggestion.
- Hold on Peter! No watching TV till the homework is done. (Stop)
- Hold on! Don’t go any further. There is no road beyond this point. (Stop)
- Hold on while I fetch my coat from the closet. (Wait)
- Don’t go now. Hold on till the weather broadcast announces it will be a clear day. (Wait)
- Hold on! I will join you in a minute. (Wait for me)
The dictionary meaning of hold off is to keep at a distance, to repel or keep back; to postpone until later, to defer.
- The attackers were held off by the security guards. (The attackers were kept back…)
- She held off from entering into a relationship with Thomas. (She kept Thomas at a distance).
- The meeting was held off as there was snowstorm. (The meeting was postponed).
- Hold off the party till another day as most people are away this weekend. (Defer or postpone the party…)
- Hold off screaming. It was not my fault. (Keep back your anger…)
- The troops held the enemies off by their superior strength. (Repel)
- Hold off preparations for the wedding as the couple may break their engagement. (Postpone)
If you are making plans to do something, and someone tells you to “hold off” on the plans, it means they want you to stop, or to cancel the task, or not plan any further.
- Hold off the office meeting since the boss is not in town. (postpone or cancel)
- Hold off the celebrations since she just lost her husband. (cancel)
- You must hold off your vacation plans until later in the year as you are needed in the office. (postpone)
- Hold off criticising me all the time. I am trying my best. (Stop)
- Hold off the concert, since ticket sales are very low. (Postpone or cancel)
- Can you hold off laughing at my mistakes? You hurt my feelings. (Stop)
- Hold off comparing yourself to Einstein. You are not that clever. (Stop)
- We held off plans for our trip to Cairo due to the political unrest. (Postponed or cancelled).
To conclude, “hold on” is to wait, or grip while “hold off” is to postpone, cancel or stop an action.