Hold onto vs Hold on to [bitterness/a hand]

Discussion in 'English Only' started by kenny4528, Jun 17, 2007.

  1. kenny4528

    kenny4528 Senior Member

    Mandarin, Taiwan

    Finally, holding onto bitterness can hurt our relationships with friends and family members.

    This comes from ''Conquering Bitterness''.

    The terms hold onto confused me. I think it should be hold on to, which is listed in my dictionary and found in Dictionary,com. I start pondering if hold onto is a common combination in BE/AE? Shouldn't it be hold on to?

  2. dn88 Senior Member

    Hi, I think that they can be used interchangeably. But let's wait for other opinions.

  3. Dimcl Senior Member

    British Columbia, Canada
    Canadian English
    I'm with you, Kenny. I certainly think it should be "hold on to". "Onto" means to place or position something upon (ie. "the cat jumped onto the table") so I believe that this is an error by the author or, at the very least, a "typo".
  4. dn88 Senior Member

    So maybe the confusion comes from the two meanings of "hold onto". One meaning is literal, whereas another is figurative. If I mean for instance "hold something firmly (with my hands/arms)", should it be "hold onto" or "hold on to"? Which variant would you choose?
  5. Smudgette Senior Member

    South of England
    English, England
    In this case it should be 'hold on to' because 'on' can be considered part of the verb. 'hold on' to something.

    As Dimcl says, 'Onto' is used to indicate a verb of position, as in 'Jump onto'.
  6. Dimcl Senior Member

    British Columbia, Canada
    Canadian English
    That's exactly how I'm looking at it. If I grab your wrist with my hand, I would say that I'm "holding onto your wrist". In Kenny's example, I am holding on/to bitterness.
  7. kenny4528

    kenny4528 Senior Member

    Mandarin, Taiwan
    Thank you, dn88, Smudgette and Dimcl.:)
    Dimcl, the most confusing part is this is an English-Teaching material, which is edited by AE. By the way, the other paragraphs in this book also adopted hold onto:

    You can choose to let go of hurt, or you can hold onto hurt, which results in bitterness.
  8. dn88 Senior Member

    I looked up the phrasal in two different English dictionaries and, quite surprisingly, they seem to contradict each other:

    Cambridge Dictionary says that if we mean "hold sth firmly", then only "hold onto" is possible, however, if we want to use the expression in its figurative sense, both variants work.

    But UsingEnglish.com (English Phrasal Verb Dictionary) lists "hold onto" for both meanings, and "hold on to" only for the meaning "hold tightly".

    So no wonder that one can get confused here. :D

  9. kenny4528

    kenny4528 Senior Member

    Mandarin, Taiwan
    Thanks. It explains why I get confused.:)
  10. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    The general rule is:

    Separate "on" from "to" if "on" is an adverb rather than part of the preposition.

    I generally think of "hold on" as a unit, and can separate it from "to" without hurting the meaning: "Don't hold on - don't hold on to bitterness.", "You need to hold on - hold on to your hat." In other words, "on" makes sense as an adverb.

    But there is nothing in the meaning of "holding onto"/"holding on to" that tells us that "on" has to be an adverb. "Holding" means the same with or without "on":

    "Keep holding."
    "Holding where?"
    "Onto your hat." or "Onto bitterness."

    I think the key with "holding onto"/"holding on to" is that there is a choice of style rather than meaning, and we see and hear these phrases both ways. The way we inflect the phrase reflects whether we see "on" as an adverb or as part of the preposition.

    If/when we are more comfortable pronouncing the phrase with an emphasis on the "on", that's an adverb and we should write it separately. If/when we want to de-emphasize the "on", it can become part of the preposition with no confusion about the meaning, literal or figurative, so we can write "onto".
  11. cheshire

    cheshire Senior Member

    Catholic (Cat-holic, not Catholic)
    I got it! If you keep holding his wrist, "I'm holding on to your wrist."...right?:confused:
  12. deanblake New Member

    English - Australia
    Thanks for the tips, guys. I guess then that using "hold on to" would make more sense in the context of the story I'm writing, where it starts off with: Time is something you don’t necessarily have to hold on to.
  13. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    English - US
    Hello deanblake.

    Welcome to the forum. :)

    I agree with you that the divided form is the right one for your sentence. (It's a nice sentence.)
  14. redgiant Senior Member

    Cantonese, Hong Kong
    Should "hold on" and "to" be separated in "He held on to a rock at the edge of the cliff. "?
  15. dani_gxc New Member

    Hold onto something/someone = Not let it something/someone go.
    e.g You shouldn't hold onto anger <-----Spanish phrase deleted---->
    e.g You can hold onto a person's hand.
    e.g You can hold onto the railing as you're walking up the stairs.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 20, 2014
  16. Christinacalifornia New Member

    English - US
    It seems to me that unlike on to, onto is somewhat equivalent to upon. I read a handy trick for distinguishing between the two: try placing up or down before onto. If it works, then use onto, otherwise use on to.

    • "He put the package [down] onto [upon] the table."
    • "He walked [up] onto the stage."
    • "Hold on to my hand while we cross the footbridge."
    • "Hold on to my wallet while I go for a swim."
  17. WildWest

    WildWest Senior Member

    "Gorgeously dressed couples held onto each other and swayed to the lonesome riffs, barely moving beneath the soft lights."

    Hi. That sentence is from a novel written by a native speaker. I can't say I have read all posts in the thread, but it's supposed to be "hold on to" in that context, isn't it? That the author has preferred to keep it that way confuses me, though. It's really a matter of style?
  18. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    English - US
    To avoid repeating the previous discussion, I will suggest that you try reading the previous posts. The explanation in post #10 is useful, for instance.
  19. EdnaMode10 New Member

    English - USA
    Oh. My. Gosh. The correct answer will always be hold on to (bitterness) because hold on is the verb here. Here are some other examples.

    Hold on to the branch until the fire department comes.
    This is where we grab on to each other.
    I hung on to the monkey bars.

    Also, you cannot add up, add down, or replace the entire preposition with upon. This proves that it does not state any physical position at all.

    This is not a matter of style. Hold onto is always wrong.
    Have a nice day!

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