I was translating the term

Wartung, Instandhaltung und Unterhalt

in our software.

I came up with

Maintenance, Upkeep & Sustenance

And I was just thinking.
Is somebody actually capable of explaining me the difference between these 3 (English) words ? ;)

  • 1
    Lots of folks are probably capable, but questions like this are usually better received when you post some of the dictionary definitions into the question, which accomplishes two things: (1) it demonstartes that you've checked there first in a good-faith effort to answer your own question, and (2) it spares us the trouble from checking the dictionaries as well, partly because we'll wonder what's not clear there, and partly to ensure our own initial misconceptions aren't erroneous. Also, this might be a better question at the English Language Learners site, since it seems to have originated with a translation.
    – J.R.
    Jul 18, 2013 at 9:20
  • 1
    @J.R. I was going to ask if the OP had first checked with a dictionary when I read your comment. Maybe if Quandary were to edit his question and explain why he believes all three words are interchangeable (if he does hold that viewpoint) then users will find the question to be also more interesting!
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 18, 2013 at 9:30
  • I am a native speaker and I realized I didn't understand the semantic difference between the first two, except a general impression from having seen/heard them used in similar contexts. I wish the question hadn't been closed.
    – Kevin E
    Oct 16, 2023 at 21:45
  • Checked DeepL and Linguee—tough, even though my German is passable. The differences in terms of dictionary definitions are subtle, much as "maintenance" and "upkeep" are in English. I believe maintenance, repair, and ongoing service would work in the sense of "preventive maintenance", fixing something that broke, and continuing both preventive/corrective maintenance for some time into the future. However, I wouldn't say I "repair" software, so perhaps "troubleshooting" is more appropriate there.
    – Kevin E
    Oct 16, 2023 at 22:14

1 Answer 1


It depends on what is being kept in good condition. I think that:

  • maintenance works better for structural or mechanical things, such as buildings and automobiles,
  • upkeep works better for things that grow, such as hair and landscaping projects, and
  • sustenance is more fitting for nourishment, one's livelihood, or for something abstract, such as government.

Thus, at the legislative building, the democracy is sustained, the furnace is maintained, the front lawn requires upkeep.

These differences are mere generalities, though; the words are synonymous enough that the dividing lines I've indicated are neither hard nor strict.

  • Interesting, specific usage to the category of thing it refers to, and it seems that "Sustenance" in English does not quite have the same meaning as its German counterpart, although in German it can also mean that. Wouldn't "upkeep" work better for buildings/infrastructure than "maintenance" ? Because in German, I think it would.
    – Quandary
    Jul 18, 2013 at 14:18
  • Why upkeep for lawn? """the front lawn needs maintenance""", sounds proper?
    – Pacerier
    Aug 29, 2017 at 12:11
  • Agreed regarding your point about mechanical things. The tricky thing about "maintenance" without any qualifiers is that it can connote routine, preventive measures or corrective measures (fixing something that broke), whereas "upkeep" might imply ongoing actions of both varieties.
    – Kevin E
    Oct 16, 2023 at 22:33

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