“a hold” or “ahold”?

Even subtle differences between words and phrases can mean the difference between precise writing and embarrassing spelling mistakes. Sometimes, these differences boil down to the placement of a simple space.

While ahold is a familiar word, some writers separate this adverb into two words. Likewise, the word hold has many uses besides as an adverb. If you find these differences confusing, continue reading for an explanation of the appropriate contexts for each.

What is the Difference Between Ahold and A Hold?

In this post, I will compare ahold vs. a hold. I will use each of these terms in an example sentence, so that you can see what they look like in context.

Plus, I will demonstrate the use of a mnemonic device that will help you choose either ahold or a hold when you write.

When to Use Ahold

What does ahold mean? Ahold functions as an adverb. It means roughly the same as hold in this sense; namely, it modifies a verb like get to imply possession, ownership, or contact.

Here are some examples,

  • “Camilla, will you get ahold of Susan and ask her why on earth our supply order hasn’t been delivered yet?” asked Jermaine.
  • Asher got ahold of some drugs, and used them all without sharing with Amanda.
  • Morels are difficult to get ahold of, but they are so delicious that procuring them is worth almost any amount of effort.

Ahold is used primarily in America, and it is done so in informal contexts. You will want to avoid its use in professional and formal writing, as it is sometimes considered a spelling error.

Most British dictionaries will not list the word; some American dictionaries will list it, others won’t.

When to Use A Hold

What does a hold mean? A hold is a phrase, consisting of the indefinite article a and the noun hold, with hold meaning a method of restraint or blockage.

Here are some examples,

  • The skilled martial artist employed a hold to keep her opponent from escaping while she punched him.
  • Callie’s bank placed a hold on her money, which she found annoying.
  • Gregorius found a hold on the face of the cliff and swung himself up over the edge.
  • A Thai crocodile trainer has amazingly escaped serious injury after a three metre man-eater grabbed a hold of his arm and performed a ‘death roll’. –Daily Mail

When to Use Hold

The construction used more frequently than both of the above constructions is to get hold of. This construction is simpler and is used much more frequently than either of the above constructions.

For example,

  • If you can’t get hold of me, send Jason a text message.
  • I tried calling three times, but I can’t get hold of him.
  • Climbing the mountain, I found it hard to get a firm hold.

Trick to Remember the Difference

Both get ahold and get a hold of are rarely used when compared to the simpler get hold of. A general rule of writing is to keep things simple rather than complex. In this case, that general rule seems to be on display.

Ahold is an informal world that is rarely used and shunned in professional writing. In his book Garner’s Modern English Usage, Bryan Garner put the ratio of get hold vs. get ahold at 18:1, respectively. In other words, you should probably avoid that construction.

To get a hold of is used at a similarly low level (see below).

As this chart shows, the simple word hold is used much more frequently and should be your preferred choice, which makes it easy to remember a hold vs. ahold.

In constructions like get hold, you can easily avoid a hold and ahold in favor of the simpler hold. Sometimes, however, a hold is necessary.

For example, in our example from above,

  • Callie’s bank placed a hold on her money, which she found annoying.

You would not be able to say “Callie’s bank placed hold on her money…”


Is it a hold or ahold? As the above distinctions prove, the subtleties that are a hallmark of English usage can be confusing.

  • Ahold is an informal adverb that modifies a verb to show possession or contact.
  • A hold is a phrase consisting of an indefinite article and a noun.
  • Both should be avoided when hold is easily used instead.

You can always check this site any time you have questions about word use or other writing topics.

A hold vs ahold

A hold and ahold are two expressions that are often confused. We will examine the definitions of the terms a hold and ahold, where they came from and some examples of their use in sentences.

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A hold is a noun that means the act of grabbing on to something or a protuberance or divot of some sort that acts as a place where one may achieve a handhold while climbing something.

A hold may also mean an uncanny or overwhelming power that something or someone has over a person, a fortress, or the place where cargo is stored below a ship’s deck. A hold may be a stop on the progression of a process.

Finally, a hold may be a particular way to grab an opponent in the art of wrestling. The word hold is derived from the Old English word geheald, which means custody or watch.

Ahold is most often used in the phrase get ahold of, meaning to grab someone or something in a literal or figurative sense. One may get ahold of someone’s arm, get ahold of some information, or the phrase get ahold of may be used to mean to contact someone by phone, email, etc.

Related phrases are gets ahold of, got ahold of, getting ahold of. Though the word ahold has been in use since the 1500s, the phrase get ahold of came into use in the United States sometime in the mid-1800s as a regionalism.

The word ahold is now listed in the Oxford English Dictionary as an adverb.


The Senate has confirmed Lt. Gen. David Berger to serve as the next commandant of the Marine Corps following a hold from Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska). (The USNI News)

  • Bloomberg News reported Thursday that China has put a hold on new soybean purchases, although it’s not canceling previous purchases. (Omaha World-Herald)

Get hold of, get ahold of, get a hold of

First off, any time you have 'get' followed by some noun form of an action verb, it's going to have the sense

  • to succeed in ~ing, to have an opportunity to ~

so, in this instance,

Get hold of

  1. to succeed in grasping, to happen to get a hold upon.

    Matthew Kellison, A Survey of the New Religion, 1603, p. 664:

    For if a man by ſhipvvracke vvere in daunger of drovving, then ſo longe as he ſeeth humaine meanes to ſaue him, he vvill ſnatch at a cord vvhich is caſt vnto him, or he vvill reach for a borde, or ſeeke to get hold of a boate, rocke, or tree, to helpe him ſelfe by; & if he be an Atheiſt, then ſo longe as theſe meanes faile not, he ſeeketh for no other, but if he perceue, that by no creaturs helpe, he can be holpen, then be he Chriſtian or Pagane, Ievv or Atheiſt, he thinketh vppon ſome higher povver, and vvhen all creaturs forſake him, and his ovvn force vvill no more ſerue him, nature bidds him to ſeeke farther, & to demaund that helpe of the Creatour, vvhich no creature can yeeld him.

  2. (figuratively, of objects) to succeed in gaining possession of, to get.

  3. (figuratively, of concepts) to succeed in grasping intellectually, to gain an understanding of.

  4. (figuratively, of other people) to succeed in reaching, to make contact with.

So, all in all, pretty useful and fills a need in the language for communicating both success and the longing and effort that preceded it.

Some dictionaries (e.g., MW) consider this the most proper form and it's certainly seen more usage than the others. All the same, as an American, I'd only instinctively use it for the first sense and process—and use—the three figurative senses as clipped forms of 'get ahold of'.

Pace @NewAlexandria & co., there's nothing substandard or confusing about

Get ahold of

  1. [alt. form of] get hold of, emphasizing the specific strong action involved.

Graham's Magazine, Aug. 1850, p. 119:

The good sailor who had caught ahold of her when she was fallin', told her to cheer up.

Example sentences with, and the definition and usage of "Ahold"

    1. Meanings of words and phrases
    2. What does get ahold of something mean?

    3. “Get ahold” can mean “to obtain” as in “She wants to get ahold of the new iPhone”. There are other usages as well, such as “Get ahold of yourself!”, which sort of means get control of your emotions. Do these examples make sense?

    1. Meanings of words and phrases
    2. What does get ahold mean?

    3. It means a variety of things. You can say it to “get a hold of” someone, meaning to communicate with them.. Or you can say “to get a hold of” something, meaning to literally reach out for it.

    1. Example sentences
    2. Please show me example sentences with Get ahold of yourself .

    3. 'Get a hold of yourself' can be use as either an encouragement or as a way of telling someone off so it can depend on the tone of voice you use. “You're panicking right now. Please, get a hold of yourself so we can help.” would be said calmly as an encouraging way to help someone. “Get a hold of yourself already! This is no time for that.” would be admonishing and quite rude.

    1. Similar words
    2. What is the difference between get ahold of me and contact me ?

    3. Contacting someone is when you’re simply making a phone call/having conversation. Getting a hold of someone means you’re contacting them specifically to see what they are doing, where they are, what they plan on doing, to see if it coordinates with what you need from that person. Examples: “Have you gotten in contact with Mom? She won’t answer my calls.” “Let me see if I can get a hold of my boss, I will get back to you shortly.” The difference between the two is the purpose.

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Getting a hold of grammar problem

Joe Freeh of Oklahoma City showed Buck an article in the Swayback Daily Kick that referred to someone who had “gotten ahold of something.

Shouldn't that be “gotten a hold or just “gotten hold? he wondered.

Miss Prunella Pincenez scolded Buck and his pals in eighth-grade English for saying things such as “I got ahold of the saddle horns and hung on. She was especially tough on Gopher, who would say “aholt.

In writing, you'll sometimes see “ahold and sometimes “a hold. Webster's Third New International labels “ahold as dialectical, and Encarta World English Dictionary calls it “informal.

“I'm trying to climb a tree to get away from a wild boar, Uncle Hadacol yelled, “but I can't find a limb to get a hold of.

“Get hold of yourself, Buck said. “The boar's not chasing you; it's chasing Ol' Elmer, your hunting dog.

Buck considers “get ahold to be less elevated when it's used to mean “acquire, as in “Floyd got ahold of a junkyard alternator for his pickup.

“A can also be a prefix meaning “in or “to, as in “We were abed by 11 o'clock and “The ship turned hard aport. It can mean “in the process of when attached to verbs ending in -ing, as in: “Gopher came a-running when Miss Lulabelle put her blackberry cobbler on the window ledge to cool.

“He took the whole pie, Miss Lulabelle said. “If I ever get ahold of him, I'm a-gonna wring his neck. Miss Prunella would approve of the neck-wringing, but not of “get ahold and “I'm a-gonna.

Contact Buck by writing to columnist Gene Owens, 1004 Cobbs Glen Drive, Anderson, SC 29621. Send e-mail to [email protected] Please let Buck know what town you're from.

Archive ID: 2179494

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Definitions for aholdəˈhoʊldahold


  1. ahold(Noun)

    a hold, grip, grasp

    • ahold(Adverb)
    • to bring a ship to lie as near to the windward as it can to get out to sea
    • Lay her ahold, ahold: set her two courses off to sea again. uE000346291uE001 Shakespeare, The Tempest

Webster Dictionary

  1. Ahold(adverb)

    near the wind; as, to lay a ship ahold

    Etymology: [Pref. a- + hold.]


  1. Ahold

    Ahold is a Dutch international retailer based in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Ahold is an AEX-listed company on NYSE Euronext Amsterdam.

Chambers 20th Century Dictionary

  1. Ahold

    a-hōld′, adv. (Shak.) near the wind, so as to keep clear of the land.

Dictionary of Nautical Terms

  1. ahold

    A term of our early navigators, for bringing a ship close to the
    wind, so as to hold or keep to it.

How to pronounce ahold?

    How to say ahold in sign language?


    1. Chaldean Numerology

      The numerical value of ahold in Chaldean Numerology is: 2

    2. Pythagorean Numerology

      The numerical value of ahold in Pythagorean Numerology is: 4

    Examples of ahold in a Sentence

    1. Devin Hamlin:

    You really got a hold on me

    Q: I’m seeing the word “ahold” a lot in books—and not just in dialogue! I’m miffed, but a fellow librarian says it’s an archaic form like “aholt” that’s now an acceptable variation of “a hold.” If that’s the case, what part of speech is it?

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    A: As you know, the word “hold” is not only a verb (to grasp) but a noun (a “hold” is a grip). The verb preceded the noun; it was first recorded in the 10th century, the noun in the 11th.

    In the common expression “get hold of,” it’s a noun. Sometimes the article “a” is added: “get a hold of.” Neither of these usages raises any hackles.

    But the combination of the noun and the article into one word—as in “get ahold of”—gets people’s attention.

    This usage is often criticized by language commentators as “dialectal” (peculiar to a region, social class, etc.), or “colloquial” (found more often in speech than in writing).

    For example, Fowler’s Modern English Usage (rev. 3rd ed.) calls it colloquial and says the usual idiom is just “hold … with no a- prefixed.”

    Garner’s Modern American Usage (3rd ed.) calls “ahold” a “casualism” (an informal usage).

    And Pat’s grammar and usage book Woe Is I recommends “get hold” or “get a hold” instead.

    However, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) include “ahold” without any such reservations, which means they regard it as standard English.

    American Heritage and Merriam-Webster’s—the two standard dictionaries we rely on the most—cite examples from the writings of contemporary authors.

    AH quotes Jimmy Breslin: “I knew I could make it all right if I got … back to the hotel and got ahold of that bottle of brandy.” And M-W quotes Norman Mailer: “if you could get ahold of a representative.”

    As for its part of speech, both dictionaries identify “ahold” as a noun meaning “hold.”

    But the Oxford English Dictionary takes a different view. It still regards “ahold” (which it hyphenates, “a-hold”) as dialectal or colloquial. And it classifies the word as an adverb.

    • In the OED’s analysis, “ahold” is an adverb formed from the noun “hold” and the prefix “a-,” which is not an article but a preposition.
    • So “ahold” or “a-hold,” according to the OED editors, is in effect a small prepositional phrase, serving as an adverb.
    • In explaining the use of “a-” as a prepositional prefix, the OED says it’s often used with a noun or gerund, sometimes hyphenated and sometimes not, to express action.
    • Most words formed this way are now obsolete or regional, as in “At noon he was still lying abed” or “Froggy went a-courtin’ ” or “It’s been a long time a-coming.”
    • Historically, “ahold” was once used as a navigational term meaning to sail a ship close to the wind.

    It was recorded sometime before 1616 in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. In Act I, the boatswain cries: “Lay her a-hold, a-hold!” That use of the word is now obsolete.

    The modern sense of the word emerged in the 1870s. Here’s an OED citation from an 1878 issue of Scribner’s Monthly: “With one bee a-hold of your collar … and another a-hold of each arm.”

    And here’s a 20th-century example, from Ernest Hemingway’s short-story collection In Our Time (1926): “Nick dropped his wrist. ‘Listen,’ Ad Francis said. ‘Take ahold again.’ ” 

    1. Since you mention “aholt,” it’s interesting to note that the OED’s first citation for the current meaning of “ahold” is spelled this way.
    2. It’s from Edward Eggleston’s novel The End of the World (1872): “You gripped a-holt of the truth.”
    3. “Aholt,” which doesn’t appear in standard dictionaries, can be traced to what the OED calls “an unexplained phonetic variant” of “hold” as “holt.”
    4. The OED has many citations for “holt,” dating from around 1375 to modern times.

    In fact, it says “hold” is still pronounced “holt” in some midland and southern counties of England, as well as regionally in the US. So it’s dialect, not archaic.

    But getting back to “ahold,” you can consider it a noun or an adverb, standard English or dialectal. In our opinion, it still has a dialectal flavor and doesn’t belong in formal writing.

    Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage says “ahold” is “primarily a spoken construction, and its most frequent appearance is in the transcription of speech.”

    (Perhaps if the people quoted were writing instead of speaking, they would have written “a hold.” Who knows?)

    As for how to label “ahold,” the M-W usage guide says, “If it is indeed dialectal it is well spread around.”

    The word has been recorded in 17 states, both urban and rural and in all parts of the country, according to M-W usage and the Dictionary of American Regional English.

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