I often hear the words hang on and hold on, especially on TV. People use them when they want someone to wait for something. What's the difference between them?

  • 2
    In those specific idioms, "hang on" and "hold on" are virtually synonymous. There is no difference to speak of.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Jan 4, 2013 at 4:56
  • 1
    What @MετάEd said. I use both freely in the "[please] wait [a short time]" sense, but in the sense of "Stop what you're doing!" (or "just about to do") I probably use "Hang about!" more often than either. Commented Jan 4, 2013 at 5:18
  • @MετάEd. Isn't hang on rather more brusque? Commented Jan 4, 2013 at 7:48
  • Now hold on just a minute, Barrie. I think the brusqueness of one word or the other is determined by the larger context and overall tone as much as anything.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Jan 4, 2013 at 7:55
  • People about to being hanged tend to feel poorly about the former.
    – Coyote
    Commented Jan 4, 2013 at 8:09

5 Answers 5


"Hang on" and "Hold on". I often hear these words, especially on TV. People use them when they want someone to wait for something.

In the provided context, they are very similar.

Hang on:

informal wait for a short time: hang on a minute—do you think I might have left anything out? *(on the telephone) remain connected until one is able to talk to a particular person.*

Hold on can mean the same in general conversation:

[often in imperative] wait; stop:
hold on a minute, I’ll be right back!

While the end result is the same, when used as part of telephonic conversations, hold on often refers more to being placed on hold:

waiting to be connected while making a telephone call:
‘I’ll just see if he’s free,’ Rachel said, and put me on hold

As the ODO page will confirm, there are a number of other idiomatic uses of hold (hold your horses, hold your fire, hold it, etc.) which share similar connotations of stop or wait.


Both are metaphors... in the context about waiting a short time.

Hanging on the line, like a fish, or a person at the end of a phone line. Keeping some one hanging so you can think/rethink/restate your position. Hang on a tick while I look up the number - I'm not going anywhere. And I keep muttering, okay P, Pa, Potter, Powers - got it, 5367 4122.

Holding, keeping the same position, not going away - even though I am for a moment. Hold on a tick while I get him - I'm going to be gone for a minute maybe.

So I feel hold is likely to mean a more significant pause or interruption (either longer or more removed), rather than just a filler for thinking or looking something up.


If you're saying to wait a minute, either 'hold on' or 'hang on' will do.

But if you're talking about literally grasping something with your hands, you usually would say 'hold' and not 'hang.' For instance, you would say, "Please hold on to my plate for me." You wouldn't say, "Hang on my plate for me."

'Hang on' carries the connotation of holding onto something you're falling off of, like when you hang on to the edge of the cliff. 'Hold on' carries more of a connotation of lifting or grasping something.

But as I said, most people use them interchangeably.


Sometimes they are synonymous. Sometimes hold on is used when you are questioning a statement by someone, as in, "Hold on, are you telling me the project will be late again?!?" It's also possible that hang on is less formal than hold on, but that distinction may be regional and/or fading over time.


According to Google Ngrams, “hang on a minute” and “hold on a minute” are virtually interchangeable in British English, but the former has had a slight edge since the early 1990s.

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Meanwhile, the story is significantly different if we compare the results using the American English corpus. In over 100 years, the phrase “hold on a minute” has never been seriously challenged by its near equivalent “hang on a minute”.

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According to DifferenceBetween.Net the difference in meaning between the two phrases is negligible,. In addition, it argues that “hang on for a minute” is the more informal of the two, but Aaron Hutchinson, the author, offers no compelling evidence to support that claim.

‘Hang on’ also can mean to wait for a short period of time, just like ‘hold on’, however, it is important to note that is a more informal usage of the expression. For example: Hang on for a minute, I’ll be right back. Likewise, it is often used with ‘for a minute’.

Instead, we need to turn to Oxford Living Dictionaries to have that confirmation.

hang on [informal] Wait for a short time.

‘hang on a minute—do you think I might have left anything out?’

OLD says hold on is a phrasal verb, which many guidelines suggest should be avoided in academic writing. Therefore if a more formal register is required, simply substitute hold/hang on with “wait”.

hold on 1. [often in imperative] Wait; stop.

‘hold on a minute, I'll be right back!’
‘Now just hold on a minute, judgmental John, have you forgotten that this is not the UK?’

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