Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Differences between Hold and Keep

Let’s take two simple sentences:

  1. Can you hold this book for me?
  1. Can you keep this book for me?

Do the two mean the same thing?

No, they don’t. In the first sentence, you have a book in your hands, and perhaps for some reason you need to use your hands for something else, so you hand over the book to another person, and ask him to hold it for you, that is, to keep it in his hands, but only for a short while. When you complete doing whatever it is you wish to do, you intend to take the book back.

When you say, ‘Keep this book for me,’ you want the other person to keep possession of the book for a much greater length of time. Maybe you are going out on a trip, and you feel that, in your absence, the book will not be safe where you normally keep it, so you ask someone else to keep it for you for the duration of your trip.

The expression hold on to can also mean keep, as in the sentence:

  • I think you should hold on to your present job a little while longer.

Now, you could say ‘I think you should keep your present job a little while longer’ and it would mean the same thing, but in such a situation, many would consider hold on to the better option because of the phrase ‘a little while longer’ which follows it.

There are times when the different shades of meaning between the two words disappear, making them interchangeable, as in the following sentences:

  • Hold/Keep your head straight when you march.
  • She uses a lot of drama to hold/keep the audience’s attention.
  • You’ve got to hold/keep still when I give you the injection.
  • The family always holds/keeps together when the going gets difficult.

When the Words Are Dissimilar

More often than not, though, there is a distinct difference in the usage of the two words. Here are examples of sentences where you cannot replace hold with keep:

  • Can I hold your hand? (‘Can I keep your hand?’ would have bizarre implications!)
  • This platform won’t hold his weight. (This means, ‘If he gets onto the platform, the platform will collapse.’)
  • Your argument does not hold any water. (This means, ‘Your argument is weak.’)
  • She holds a high post in the organization.
  • I hold him to be an honest man.
  • This bottle holds two litres of water.

Similarly, in the following sentences, you can’t use hold in the place of keep:

  • You should keep calm in a crisis.
  • Don’t keep making that noise.
  • Keep quiet – you’re disturbing the patient.
  • You can keep that pen – I don’t need it. (This implies that the pen is yours, and you originally lent it to the person.)
  • He acts important and keeps you waiting when you visit him.
  • Keep walking straight, and you’ll reach the pub in five minutes.

Test Your Knowledge

Can you say which choice of word would be appropriate in the following sentences?

  • My worries _____ me from sleeping well. (keep, hold)
  • The police are_____ him in connection with the theft. (keeping, holding)
  • She _____ back from expressing her real feelings for fear that she would be misunderstood. (kept, held)
  • I think you should_____ off alcohol. (keep, hold)
  • _____this to yourself – I haven’t told anybody else about it. (Keep, Hold)
  • Our brains can_____ a great deal of information. (keep, hold)

Here are the answers, in reverse order (just to make it a little less easy for you, should your eyes stray downwards!):

Hold, keep, keep, held, holding, keep


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References :


[0]Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary

[1]BBC World Service

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