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For the most popular speakers the committee had decided to use the main hall that is capable of containing / holding at least 200 people.

I don't know how to distinguish two words "hold" and "contain" ? When do we use them? Do they have exactly meaning?

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    Except in very exceptional circumstances, no two words in English will ever have exactly the same meaning. For example, idiomatically, if we say This bucket contains 3 gallons of water, we mean there are 3 gallons of water in this bucket right now. But This bucket holds 3 gallons of water can reasonably be said even if the bucket is currently empty, since we're quantifying the potential carrying capacity, not the current contents. The same principle applies when describing the capacity of a room in terms of the (potential) number of people who are (or could be) in it. Jul 4, 2016 at 13:54

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No, they do not have the same meaning. I think it is a matter of context and connotation. In this case, we understand that the room has to be able to seat at least 200 people. So, the definition we seek is

hold

  1. c : accommodate
    <the restaurant holds 400 diners>

However, you can imagine that there could be an unpopular speaker, and it was mandatory to attend. No one wants to go, but since they are forced to go, one of the committee members remarks,

Don't worry. The main hall is capable of containing at least 200 people.

In this case, the meaning is more like the room is able to keep 200 people from leaving (restraining). This has the feeling that they are being held against their will.

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  • Great example and explanation!
    – shin
    Jul 4, 2016 at 11:18
  • A website distinguished two words like this: " The conventional word when referring to the seating capacity of a hall/stadium/theatre is hold when we are talking about people. Contain is used more for inanimate objects. We could put the two verbs together and say: The theatre is capable of holding 2,000 people and contains several bars and the usual facilities. " Is that right ? Jul 4, 2016 at 15:09
  • @NguyễnNam Yep, sounds good to me.
    – Em.
    Jul 4, 2016 at 15:17

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