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Keep on: "to continue doing something, or to do something many times."

Go on: "a) to continue doing something or being in a situation. b) to continue without stopping".

From Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English

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    Offhand, I can't think of any context where the choice between keep on / go on / continue [present participle] makes any difference. But there are probably specific contexts where any one of those is significantly more (or less) likely to be used. Apr 26, 2014 at 13:37
  • @FumbleFingers Thanks, Could you please tell me in which specific context I should use the relevant appropriate word?
    – David Li
    Apr 26, 2014 at 13:41
  • As implied above, I think this is a "non-issue". In any context where you might use any of those three, you can probably assume the other two are equally valid. I would say I think that keep on is the most informal, and continue the most formal. But these are very minor distinctions that probably aren't worth taking note of (if indeed they're even true). Apr 26, 2014 at 14:16
  • 'He will go on [talking] about global warming' has more of an implication of 'go on at length'; 'He will keep on [talking] about global warming' suggests rather that he keeps on bringing up the subject. Apr 26, 2014 at 15:31
  • @EdwinAshworth That is an excellent point, but that also takes it out of the realm of an imperative sentence. I wonder if he could clarify as to which context he means since I assumed he meant an imperative. Apr 26, 2014 at 15:37

2 Answers 2

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Per my comment to the question, in most contexts, all three of keep on / go on / continue [present participle] are synonymous and interchangeable (arguably I've given them in descending order of "informality").

But in this context I would very much prefer keep on (and definitely wouldn't use continue)...

I'm tired of your bellyaching! I wish you wouldn't keep on complaining all the time!

Maybe it's just a personal thing, but I feel to keep on has more overtones of be persistent, dogged, whereas being told to go on often means little more than "don't stop".


There are probably other contexts where one term is commonly understood to be more (or less) suitable than the others, but nothing else comes to mind at the moment. So comments welcome.

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  • Thank you. I’m a little bit confused about the "descending order of informality". Does it mean "keep on doing" is more informal than "continue doing"?
    – JJJohn
    Aug 24, 2020 at 2:13
  • I said "arguably" because it's possible some native speakers wouldn't agree with my "order of informality" there. But yes - that's what I meant. Note that many speakers use the highly informal "phrasal verbs" to keep on and to go on without any following verb (such as complaining in my example, which is effectively "optional" in such contexts). You can't do that with the verb to continue in any dialect or register that I can think of. Aug 24, 2020 at 12:28
  • (That's to say to keep on and to go on can both be used with the implied but not explicitly stated sense of [continue] complaining, or saying things the speaker doesn't want to hear.) Aug 24, 2020 at 12:32
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I agree with FumbleFingers that 'keep on' implies a measure of dogged persistence, where 'go on' could describe cruise control. Neither strikes me as more or less formal than the other, and both are good English. Slight difference in flavor and/or implication, depending on how fine you want or need to cut it.

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  • We can of course combine the two "phrasal verb" elements for the "complain persistently" sense: [I wish you wouldn't] keep going on [about some problem of yours that I don't want to listen to]. Aug 24, 2020 at 14:08

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