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Can you please tell if there is there any difference in meaning between give up one's dream and give up on one's dream? For example:

Kate had to give up her dream of becoming a professional gymnast because of injury.

Kate had to give up on her dream of becoming a professional gymnast because of injury.

Are both perfectly natural?

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  • both are natural, and I don't see any difference in meaning.
    – Esther
    Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 15:23
  • I see a difference in that the first is giving up the dream itself and forgetting all about gymnastics; the second of any hope of actually achieving it, so it remains a dream. Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 15:43

2 Answers 2

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There's a difference. "Giving up on" something implies a stronger sense of accepting failure or defeat than "giving up" something.

This distinction is muddled by your use of "had to." In fact, let's change the context to demonstrate the difference more easily.

Kate gave up on her dream of being a professional gymnast after she didn't qualify for the national championships.

This implies that Kate gave up because she accepted that she wasn't good enough. You could omit the "on" here without a change in meaning - i.e., there would still be an implication that she stopped her activities because of failure, but the implication would come largely from the context and not as much from the verb itself.

Kate gave up her dream of being a professional gymnast to be a mother to her child.

Here, there is no implication that she wasn't good enough to become a professional gymnast or otherwise accepted defeat. She simply prioritized something else above her dream of being a gymnast. If you added the word "on" here, you'd create (in my opinion) a slight implication - very, very subtle - that perhaps expected failure had something to do with her decision.

With no context whatsoever, the "on" makes a big difference:

Kate gave up [on] her dream of being a professional gymnast.

With the on, there's an obvious implication that failure was the reason; without the on, there's an implication that she may well have prioritized something else.

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  • Thank you a lot for the helpful answer. Would you also please tell me if there is any difference between "give up the chance" and "give up on the chance"? For example: I gave up the chance of becoming a lawyer. I gave up on the chance of becoming a lawyer. Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 17:22
  • I wouldn't use gave up on the chance (or even "the opportunity"). You "give up on" something that you hold dearly.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 17:30
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    @DmytroO'Hope - I would say it works exactly the same with "chance" as it does with "dream" ... the "on" increases the implication of the feeling of failure.
    – cruthers
    Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 17:30
  • @ColinFine - "After getting rejected from every law school I applied to, I gave up on the chance of becoming a lawyer." Maybe not Shakespeare, but I think it works fine.
    – cruthers
    Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 17:32
  • Maybe it does, @cruthers. I don't think I would use chance in that case.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 17:33
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Both are acceptable and mean basically the same thing.

To "give up" means to quit, to stop trying.

To "give up something" means to relinquish it, to hand it over. However, it's common to not have any actual recipient, in which case it's more like "let go of" — you release your grip and let it disappear.

In "give up on something", the "on" connects "give up" in its first sense with a particular thing that you stop trying for.

— I'm giving up.
— On what?
— Trying to lose weight.

Hence, "give up her dream" means "let go of her dream", while "give up on her dream" means "stop trying to accomplish her dream". These clearly have the same logical force, even if the nuances are slightly different.

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