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What is the difference in meaning between out and up and down in the following sentences?

  1. I am holding out hope for a white Christmas.

  2. I am holding hope for a white Christmas.

  3. I am holding up hope for a white Christmas.

  4. I am holding down hope for a white Christmas.

Does "1) I am holding out hope for a white Christmas" mean "I think there is the low probability that it will snow by Christmas. But I hope it snows." ?

Does "2) I am holding hope for a white Christmas" mean "I think there is the normal probability that it will snow by Christmas. But I hope it snows." ?

Does "3) I am holding up hope for a white Christmas" mean "I think there is the highest probability that it will snow by Christmas. But I hope it snows." ?

Does "4) I am holding down hope for a white Christmas" mean "I think there is the lowest probability that it will snow by Christmas. But I hope it snows." ?

If so, what does "I am holding on hope for a white Christmas" mean?

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    English 'directions' when used to support other actions not normally associated with a direction don't have a fixed set of rules. You really have to know which is used for which, you cannot possibly guess at any meaning if another 'direction' was applied. Some will sometimes work, mostly there are only one or two valid ones. Generally, your alternatives here don't work & the definitions are wild guesswork. Apr 14, 2023 at 8:44
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    The first isn't very natural, and I'd venture to say that no native English speaker would really say that. 2,3, and 4 make no sense at all. It would be more natural to say "I am hoping for a white Christmas".
    – Billy Kerr
    Apr 14, 2023 at 13:56
  • 2, 3 and 4 are simply unidiomatic.
    – Lambie
    Apr 14, 2023 at 14:43

3 Answers 3

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The first isn't very natural, and I'd venture to say that no native English speaker would really say that. You can "hold out hope for something", but in this particular context it seems a little odd. You could use it though, it's not wrong, and you would be understood.

Examples 2,3, and 4 make no sense at all. To "hold hope" doesn't make any sense. "Hold up" is a phrasal verb which means to hinder/slow something down, so it doesn't make any sense used here. It also has several other unrelated meanings depending on context - to rob, to hide away. "Hold down" is a phrasal verb, often used in the expression "hold down a job", to remain in employment, to keep a job (and not get fired), or in the more literal sense of physically holding something down, like a key on a computer. So, again this doesn't make any sense before "hope".

It would be more natural to say I am hoping for a white Christmas, or I am still hoping for a white Christmas if you want to emphasize the fact it might never actually happen, and your hope is probably in vain.

Phrasal verbs in English are often completely different from the meaning of the base verb. There is often no way to deduce what they mean, since they are often highly idiomatic. Also in phrasal verbs that use prepositions like up, on, down, off, etc, these often have no literal meaning either. It's a mistake to think you can just add a preposition to a verb in English, and that it will somehow make sense. You have to be very careful here.

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  • Agree with everything except first sentence. It would seem natural to the ears of this native Midwestern US-raised speaker to hear or say in the days running up to Christmas that I was holding out hope for a White one. All the rest of those "postpositions" would seem at all meaningful.
    – DWin
    Apr 14, 2023 at 22:26
  • @DWin I'm from the UK. It's not wrong, and is fully understandable to me, but for me it feels a slightly odd thing to say - "still hoping" would be more natural for me, but then again I don't suppose I would even say that, as I generally hate snow and cold weather. Our winters up here in Scotland are so dark (short days, long nights), and I usually can't wait until its over. I'm just getting over the last one. LOL. I'm basically at the same latitude as the southern parts of Alaska.
    – Billy Kerr
    Apr 14, 2023 at 23:41
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    "holding out hope" is often used when the time is getting close, but you haven't given up yet. It's usually qualified as "still holding out hope"
    – Barmar
    Apr 15, 2023 at 14:24
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There are many different prepositions that can be used after "holding" to form phrasal verbs, and they each have different meanings. In the particular context you quote, only "holding out hope" is correct. "Holding out hope" means continuing to hope even though it seems unlikely.

There are lots of different resources you can go to for information on all the different phrasal verbs that include "hold". A couple of the more accessible ones to get you started are:

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    Or you can just look in a dictionary that includes phrasal verbs, such as Collins.
    – Stuart F
    Apr 14, 2023 at 8:42
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    Martin, you're quite correct and I was too hasty in grouping the interpretation with the other interpretations. I have removed the statement that "your interpretation is incorrect". Thank you.
    – Fiona
    Apr 14, 2023 at 13:49
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A search on Google Ngrams finds no results at all for holding down hope or holding on hope, and very few for holding hope or holding up hope. Therefore, (1) is the only sentence which is idiomatic English. Most people would say simply

I am hoping for a white Christmas.

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  • One might say that during most of the month of December, but if there were only 2 ays left you might say your were holding out hope.
    – DWin
    Apr 14, 2023 at 22:28
  • @DWin RIght. "holding out hope" typically implies that the likelihood of the hoped-for situation seems low or has been decreasing as you near the deadline.
    – Barmar
    Apr 15, 2023 at 14:21

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