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Context: Someone is messaging me on Whatsapp frequently and trying to get attention. I can think of the following reply to ask him to wait for some time:

Could you hold off for a few minutes
Please hold on for some time

Not sure if I am using the "hold off" and "hold on" in the proper way.

Any suggestions or alternatives?

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  • "Please hold on for some time" is not commonly said. In addition to the usage @FubmbleFingers gives below, especially if you are speaking to someone on the telephone, it is common to hear "Please hold" - which I think is what you want here.
    – BadZen
    Jul 29, 2023 at 14:23

1 Answer 1

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I don't know if dictionaries will make the relatively subtle distinction clear, but...

1: Could you hold off for a few minutes?
...usually means...
Please refrain from doing whatever you're doing / about to do (for a short time)
OR stay back, keep away (nearly always, temporarily)

...whereas...

2: Could you hold on for a few minutes?
...usually means...
Please wait for a short time

Obviously in many contexts there's actually no difference between refraining from doing something (which you may or may not already be doing when you're asked to "hold off"), and waiting (until the speaker does something).

If in doubt, though, you should probably use on, since it works more naturally in a wider range of contexts (and it might be considered rude in some contexts to tell someone to stop doing something).


Note that a few centuries ago, Hold! could be used with no preposition as an imperative meaning [You] Hold on! / Stay back! a usage which has long since died out. But there is a current prepositionless usage whereby someone on the telephone says Please hold, meaning Please wait [while I put you "on hold"] until I can respond appropriately to your call.

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  • 3
    'Hold off' could also carry a context of 'stay back' or 'stay away', 'don't go in [there] yet'. So I agree, 'hold on' is the simpler context-free version. Jul 27, 2023 at 15:49
  • 2
    You're quite right, so I've added that. Of course, there's also the "repulse an attack" sense - The gang members held off the police for several hours, but eventually they were all either shot or surrendered. That would rarely be used as an imperative, but there's near-synonymous, Sergeant! HQ says "Hold out until reinforcements arrive!" Jul 27, 2023 at 17:16
  • I did actually have the full 'armed response, police TV drama' scenario playing in my head as I typed the first comment ;) Jul 27, 2023 at 17:27

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