These are two definitions from the Farlex Dictionary of Idioms (2022 edition) What's the difference between these two definitions? It seems to me like both of these definitions mean exactly the same except for the usage note which says that you can insert a noun or pronoun between "hold" & "out" using one of them. What gives?

  1. verb To keep something from someone or something else, especially information or money. Someone still needs to chip in three more bucks to cover the bill. Who's holding out? Are you holding out on me? Do you know more details about the merger than you're letting on?

  2. verb To withhold someone or something (from something). In this usage, a noun or pronoun can be used between "hold" and "out." I heard that Sarah's parents are holding her out of play rehearsals because she has the mumps. Hold these pink cupcakes out for now—there's more than enough already on the table.

  • I don't understand how you can say It seems to me like both of these definitions mean exactly the same. The two definitions are almost exactly opposite! One means to offer something to someone (physically or metaphorically held in an outstretched hand), the other means to withhold something (often, information). Which meaning is intended will nearly always be obvious from context - as with, say, That's sick! meaning either "deranged, unhealthy" or "brilliant". Native speakers would rarely if ever misunderstand such "bipolar" idiomatic usages. Commented Sep 12, 2023 at 19:09
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    @FumbleFingers I don't understand why you think they are opposite. Under 6, in the first example usage, the speaker is accusing the people with whom he/she is dining out of withholding money, and in the second example usage the speaker is accusing the listener of withholding information. Under 7, in the first example Sarah is being withheld from rehearsals and in the second the cupcakes are being withheld from the buffet table. In which case do you think something is being offerred? Commented Sep 12, 2023 at 20:15
  • @FumbleFingers I think you misunderstood the first 'hold out'. No one was holding out cash in their hands, they were refraining from paying.
    – Rakib
    Commented Sep 12, 2023 at 22:03
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    @Rakib: Yeah, you're right. But I don't think much of the second set of examples (#7 above) anyway. The parent holding their child out of rehearsals looks more like an "accidental collocation" to me, in that "out of" attaches to "play rehearsals" rather than "holding" (and could just as well be replaced by "away from", "back from", "out of", etc.). And to me, the final "cupcakes" example is just a simple misuse - it should be hold back the cupcakes. Commented Sep 13, 2023 at 11:35
  • @FumbleFingers Yes, 7 is a particularly bad set of examples, I even looked up Farlex to see where they were based (with memories of the notorious "English as she is spoked" phrase book) but they are in the USA and Ireland, so they should know better. Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 13:41

1 Answer 1


Your first (number 6) is intransitive. It means refraining from doing something. Your second (number 7) is transitive: one holds someone or something out, as in the example sentences you quote. It means keeping something or someone back, keeping them to the side.

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    Or to put it the other way round, if someone uses "holding out" intransitively, as in "He's holding out on me" it probably means information or money, it doesn't mean a child. It seems sensible for the dictionary to explain this nuance.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Sep 13, 2023 at 9:42

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