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Under what circumstances would you prefer one of the below over others?

a) Get hold of, b) Get ahold of, c) Get a hold of

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Related: “Grab a hold”? –  RegDwigнt Jul 23 '12 at 10:09

4 Answers 4

up vote 3 down vote accepted

The three variations of this expression exist and are acceptable.

The meaning actually depends on what follows of, so get hold/ahold of someone means communicate with/reach someone and get hold/ahold of something means obtaining/literally reaching out for something. And I believe they convey the same meaning, with "get ahold of" being spoken English (apparently because it's easier to pronounce) for "get hold of" and "get a hold of" being specifically used for physical actions.

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"Get ahold of" doesn't exist. "Get hold of" and "Get a hold of" are mostly interchangeable, but "get hold of" is more often used with people "get hold of Mr. Jones and tell him..." and "get a hold of" is used with things, like gaining expertise "I think I've finally gotten a hold of this subject..."

EDIT OK, new information: ahold does exist, but it's a slang.Thanks, @NewAlexandria

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It does exist! –  Gigili Jul 22 '12 at 13:40
    
Oh. It doesn't seem to be used often, because if you google "define ahold", you get something about a retailer. "Ahold" seems to be used with literal physical grasp, though. –  asymptotically Jul 22 '12 at 13:46
    
Thanks for your take on this. And yes, "get ahold of" does exist. According to google: "get hold of" 132,000,000 results, "get a hold of" 54,800,000 results, "get ahold of" 16,200,000 results –  evgeny Jul 22 '12 at 13:51
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"get ahold of" seems to be primarily American. The British use "get a hold of". I believe the only difference between these two is the spelling (so this answer would be correct in the U.K.). –  Peter Shor Jul 22 '12 at 14:15
    
"ahold" is not a proper word, @asymptotically , so you were right the first time. "ahold of" is a colloquialism, but the OED does nto define "ahold" as a word out of context of the colloquialism –  New Alexandria Jul 22 '12 at 14:35

"get a hold of" is the only proper form. I would prefer this in all circumstances since it is correct use of the language.

"Ahold" is not a proper word.

"ahold of" is a colloquialism, but the OED does not define "ahold" as a word out of context of the colloquialism.

"get hold of" is just a broken form, where the speaker couldn't manage to use the article "a".

I suppose I would use the incorrect forms in social contexts where being seen as a 'non-native speaker' would put me danger (perhaps if I was confronted by gang members)

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The phrase "get hold of" is older and far more common than either "get a hold of" or "get ahold of"; it seems to be the original form. I don't think you can call it a broken form. See this Ngram. –  Peter Shor Jul 23 '12 at 14:32
    
@PeterShor "aint" has a history of usage in print - [that] doesn't make it correct. Note here I could have left off the work "that" and the sentence would still have read correctly (by ear/eye) yet would not have been correct usage of the language. But after some review of the Ngam grapher, I do have to give credence to your position. 'Get hold' and 'take hold' have a long history of usage in the language. –  New Alexandria Jul 23 '12 at 15:26
    
I suspect that the origin of "take hold of" was that "hold" was a mass noun, as is "possession" in "take possession of". Now "hold" is no longer used as a mass noun outside of the idioms "take/get/lay/keep hold of". –  Peter Shor Jul 23 '12 at 17:33

I think that grammatically speaking, get a hold of yourself doesn't make much sense - and in fact it seems to me that people originally recognised this.

That linked NGram chart shows how the more "logical" get a hold on yourself was actually more common when both expressions started becoming widespread in the 20s. And this one shows that plain get hold of yourself has always been more common than either version with the word "a".

Whilst I don't disagree with other answers saying that "get ahold of yourself" is "incorrect", that link to over 15000 written instances shows that in the minds of many, it really is a kind of "adverb" that gets round the inherent grammatical problem in what's now an established idiomatic usage. Somewhat akin to, for example "Get along with you!" (meaning "Go away!", "Be off with you!").


EDIT: Per comments below, I would just note this one semantic distinction...

1: "I'm trying to get hold of John" (to locate, contact, communicate with him)
2: "I'm trying to get a hold on John" (to physically grasp him, or metaphorically understand him)

There's a certain amount of flexibility in the above constructions (dialectally, at least, #1 could use ahold, and it could carry the sense of #2). But the #1 make contact sense always needs of, and if you try replacing hold with grip, grab - with or without preceding get [a] - it should be clear that idiomatically, certain forms either don't work at all, or have restricted (probable) meanings.

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Thanks a lot!!! –  evgeny Jul 22 '12 at 18:40
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In fact, "get/lay/grab/have/take hold of" seems to be the original form of the idiom. The word "a" was added later, and is still much less common. As you say, it doesn't make a lot of sense as an article, and many Americans currently spell it "ahold" in this idiom. This Ngram compares "take a hold" and "take ahold"; "take a hold" shows up around 1780, while "take hold" was around for two centuries before that (Shakespeare used it), and dwarfs both lines on this Ngram. –  Peter Shor Jul 23 '12 at 15:01
    
@Peter and Fumble: I don't really follow why the article here would not make sense. It's quite parallel to get a grip on or even the colloquial get a load of this, where I have never in my life seen anyone write *agrip or *aload, not have I ever heard anyone use either without an article. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 11 at 10:12
    
@Janus: I think it's all about the preposition. Compare, say, "All team members need a firm hold on the rope in tug-of-war" with "Here - take hold of this rope". Not so good if you swap those prepositions, imho. It seems to me to take/get hold of is more of a "phrasal verb". On the other hand, grip doesn't work without an article in that construction, and grab simply doesn't work at all. The slight syntactic differences between hold, grip, grab (as both noun and verb usages) are quite intriguing. –  FumbleFingers Jul 11 at 11:31
    
...also note @Redska's now-deleted offering "I'm trying to get hold of John". No-one would ever include a there if they meant trying to contact John, nor would they use on. –  FumbleFingers Jul 11 at 11:35

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