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Mary peered down at the beach, and holding her index finger, she sank back to her seat with a sigh.

Mary peered down at the beach, and holding on her index finger, she sank back to her seat with a sigh.

Mary peered down at the beach, and holding onto her index finger, she sank back to her seat with a sigh.

(Mary is travelling to have a surgery on her finger. So, as she becomes aware that she is reaching the airport, she starts unconsciously holding her finger.)

Do the sentences above mean the same? If not, how do they differ?

2 Answers 2

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You're an aspiring novelist? If so, we have that much in common. In any case, on to answering the question:

'Hold' is a rather vague, general verb. You have an opportunity to give the reader some insight into Mary's emotional state simply by choosing the appropriate verb. Does she caress her finger (fondly) if its to be removed and this is perhaps the last time she'll be able to touch it? It it painful, and so she grips it or her hand clamps over it? As hinted by the last example, a phrasal verb may be appropriate too, if its more revealing and in line with your vision. So you need to ask yourself, 'Why is Mary holding her finger?'

If you decide to use 'hold', I don't think the prepositions you've included are necessary. There's no need for either 'on' or 'onto' in this context. They're only additional words that add bulk to the sentence. Incidentally, all three sentences mean the same thing, as far as I can see.

If there's some significance in Mary's touching her finger (which there should be if you've thought to include it), then maybe you want to have that instance stand out, which would be better achieved by breaking up the sentence.

So: Mary peered down at the beach. She 'held' her finger and sighed, sinking back to her seat.

Having written the above sentence, it seems you could consider bring the 'sigh' closer to the act of 'holding' her finger. The two are connected, and if you include the fact that she sighed, you might not need a more specific word for 'held'.

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  • I finally decided to leave it as: "Saki relaxed the grip on her extra finger as she peered out the window."
    – janoChen
    Jul 20, 2013 at 3:33
  • @janoChen, I presume Mary didn’t suddenly have a name change and sprout an extra finger here? Jul 20, 2013 at 12:29
  • @Janus Bahs Jacquet Ha, she was called Saki originally.
    – janoChen
    Jul 20, 2013 at 12:43
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The first sentence means she is holding her finger in her hand (sounds like someone cut it off and she was holding it)

The second sentence is invalid syntax

The third sounds wrong to me. If she was holding on to her mother's index finger, it would mean she was sort of being led by that person while grasping that person's finger.

I would for example hold on to my suitcase if I was scared someone would steal it.

Gripping or grasping her finger sounds better in my opinion

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  • Mary is traveling to another to have a surgery on her finger. So, as she becomes aware she is reaching to the airport, she starts unconsciously hold her finger. I just thought adding on or onto would put more focus on that action.
    – janoChen
    Jul 8, 2013 at 9:14
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    If I am in pain or worried about a part of my extremities I can reach, I would hold the extremity. So I would hold or cradle my wrist. I would hold on to my suitcase if I was scared someone would steal it
    – mplungjan
    Jul 8, 2013 at 9:20
  • maybe I should just use gripped in order to accentuate the action?
    – janoChen
    Jul 8, 2013 at 9:38
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    Gripping or grasping her finger would sound better.
    – mplungjan
    Jul 8, 2013 at 9:43
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    @janoChen: Mary is traveling to another to have a surgery on her finger. So, as she becomes aware she is reaching to the airport, she starts unconsciously hold her finger. I don't know why you would reveal this in a comment in an answer, rather than include it in your original question. As written, we can imagine any number of reasons for the finger holding: absent-mindedly holding her finger at a beach; trying to get tight ring off a swollen finger, etc. Such settings or situations might influence how a sentence is best worded. Sentences given in isolation often lead to stray answers.
    – J.R.
    Jul 8, 2013 at 10:38

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