In this question,

The nation is holding its breath

Can I just say " The nation is holding breath" (without its)? I am not sure when I have to use "its" Can someone explain to me?


Can I just say "The nation is holding breath"


Hopefully someone will be able to provide a better explanation of the grammar. But the way I think of it is:

"breath" needs to belong to someone/something - it doesn't exist on its own. So you need to specify that the breath the nation is holding is its own. The appropriate pronoun for "The nation" is "its" (rather than his/her/my etc.)

If you wanted to speak of the "nation" more as a collective of individuals, you might use "their breath", which has more of the feel of all of the people together are doing the same thing.

  • Holding one's breath is an idiom for waiting anxiously for something to happen, in the way that we sometimes stop breathing when we fear that someone is about to fall, for example. – Kate Bunting Jan 18 at 9:44

If you look at this Gngram, you will see that this phrase usually contains a possessive pronoun between hold and breath. Note that it needs to be of the same person with the agent of the verb (you cannot "hold someone else's breath"). There are apparently instances of hold breath, but they are not frequent, and holding breath is even less frequent.

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Looking for examples online, I found it used on the PubMed site in the literal sense:

Subjects began holding breath at irregular intervals prior to the voluntary onset of speech.

When I narrowed down the search, Google found few hits similar to yours:

The nation is holding breath as the Supreme Court is conducting its last hearing into high profile Panama scandal today. (Saama TV)

Note, however, that all the hits of "The nation is holding breath" are from non-native sources.

Conclusion: I don't recommend using the phrase without the pronoun.

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